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A Meditation On The Incarnation Of Christ, Sermons On The Life And
Passion Of Our Lord And Of Hearing And Speaking Good Words. -Thomas A Kempis

BEHOLD now is the acceptable time: behold now is the day of salvation. The sacred season of Lent has come, wholesomely instituted by the Church: devoutly to be welcomed by all the faithful of Christ, but most of all by religious. Prepare thyself, therefore, servant of God, at this time to live with greater care, to fast more strictly, to pray more often, to sing psalms with greater diligence; so that on the day of the Lord’s resurrection also thou mayest merit to rejoice with the Lord the more fully: the more abstemiously thou hast lived. Accept joyously the cross of the Lord: which the Saviour of the world willingly accepted for thee. For the cross is every affliction of the flesh and every mortification of sensuality; which must always be kept under: lest it wax strong against the spirit. This cross the love and grace of Christ makes light and sweet: Who, by His own example and the example of the saints, has delivered the pattern of abstinence. Fear not therefore, weak man: nor be too cowardly to fast. Christ is the motive: Christ has given the example: Christ also will aid to finish well: Who instituted so holy an observance. For what thou dost is for thyself: for thy salvation thou toilest, when thou dost fast. Why dost thou fear, flesh and blood? The holy men of old also had flesh and blood: who passed many seasons in abstinence. If it were not afflicting to the body, or burdensome to nature; how would it be called and be a time of penance? Penance therefore thou must do in this brief space of Lent unto the remission of the negligence of thy former life; and afflict thy soul for God, as compensation to the divine justice: in watchings, in fasts, in prayers and labours, in silence and keeping of the cell; as also in other holy observances according to the practice of the Church: which now insists more strictly on the maceration of the flesh. For everywhere now she lengthens out the watches: multiplies the singing, prolongs the prayers, genuflects more frequently, bows more deeply: celebrates more fervently, worships more reverently, fasts more fully, reads more studiously, preaches more earnestly; puts on gravity, shows devotion, keeps righteousness, guards discipline: and increases every observance of holiness. For every soul, that is not afflicted this day, shall perish from her people: for she is not worthy to be numbered in the assembly of the saints: who would not imitate the life of the saints by abstinence. Now all thy former life is to be changed into better, and the flesh must be curbed with meet chastisements: so that at the time of the resurrection it may flourish again in newness of life. The days of our negligence are to be redeemed: and something more is to be demanded, in fervour of spirit for the affliction of the flesh. For the spirit it is that quickeneth: but the flesh profiteth nothing, that is the pleasure of the flesh. Cast then thy thought upon the Lord: and He shall nourish thee, rather with the word than with food. “For not in bread alone,” He saith, “doth man live: but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.” The fear which thou feelest is thy self-love: more timid than it should be. Often an excessive fear, and anxiety of heart for the failing of the body afflict more than the actual fatigue of the toil itself. If it were not a little laborious; what great thing would it be then? To live according to the ease of nature: is not a life of penance. But to a fervent spirit and to one desirous of doing manfully: all that he doth seems small. For he is eager not only to cut off the superfluous and harmful: but to abstain also from many things that are lawful. Let thy soul therefore be strong and thy will ready to fast: for thou hast the example of many fasting together with thee. Set before thee now one day, and to morrow thou shalt more devoutly add another: and thus in God’s name thou shalt accomplish the rest. Is not so holy a fast to be deemed all light and brief for the kingdom of God and the love of Christ? There is no means of escape; and so what does it profit to be troubled much about it? Let sufficient for the day be the evil thereof, so as not to double thy troubles: but rather prepare thyself to undergo things more arduous. The more ready thou art, the lighter thou dost make it for thyself: and the more acceptable it shall be to God. Haply, this shall be thy last fast in this life: and it will give thee great joy if accomplished well. How many fasted last year: who have now passed away from this world. It will be altogether pleasing to God: if, what in any case must needs be done, be done willingly and cheerfully.

Casting aside therefore the fear of the flesh: manfully and readily enter upon the wholesome fast. Walk in the spirit of freedom: and anxiety for the flesh shall not possess thee. Look well into the examples of the holy prophets, Moses and Elias and Daniel: whose abstinence from food was wonderful, and to whom long periods of solitude were dear. Look also to the most blessed John Baptist, a youth of most excellent conversation, whom the Holy Ghost filled from his mother’s womb: leading him at an early age into the wilderness: where with great abstinence and austerity of life he dwelt long in solitude. Then look to our Lord Jesus Christ above all the saints, and put Him before thee as a singular example of abstinence: how He, the Saint of saints, the King of kings and the Creator of the ages, the Sanctifier and Founder of all seasons, endured a fast of forty days and as many nights, eating nothing in the meanwhile: teaching thee by His most holy example to fast, and combat bravely against the temptations of the devil. For what would not become bearable, what not lovable by His example? Who certainly is believed to have fasted rather for thee, than for Himself. And consider not only His fast: but see that thou take His long solitude also as an example for thyself: how He bided secretly in the desert, lived most meekly with the wild beasts, and was thrice tempted by the devil: showing a pattern of solitary life, flight from the world, avoidance of tumult; frequent prayer, love of contemplation, leisure in God, retirement and self-custody.

O if for some little time thou hadst stood there with the Lord Jesus, apart from all human fellowship; would it not have been very sweet to thee to have eaten nothing those days? O how happy wouldst thou have been, if thou couldst have led a hermit’s life with the Son of God: and enjoyed the company of Him, to Whom the angels ministered. Where thinkest thou was His little hut, or the cave that sheltered Him: or what kind of matting was spread under His body? He sits upon the ground, He sleeps and reposes upon the ground: Who rules Heaven and earth. Behold Him now seated, now standing: now bending His knees in prayer to God, His Father almighty. Accompany Him therefore in the grace of devotion: and willingly abide alone with Him in His solitude, having Jesus only for thy comfort; for Jesus alone is better fellowship for thee: than the whole choir of angels in Heaven. In sooth he is never alone, or wholly forsaken: with whom the most sweet Jesus tarries. For without Jesus: the whole world is a weariness and a burden. Learn from Him how patient and meek He is in this vast solitude: how luminous a path He shows religious to retirement: instructing that they must first take leisure in God and themselves, before going forth into public.

Ask of Him, however, the reason of this life and say, “What art Thou doing here, Lord Jesus? Why dost flee men; Who canst not come to any harm from men? Why dost Thou shun the crowd: Who canst not be disturbed by any? For what end also dost Thou so severely fast, and thus chastise Thy sacred flesh; seeing that there is nought in Thee, that needs to be curbed? Or is it for our sakes and for our salvation that Thou dost these things?” “Truly is it so. For the sake of My elect I do and suffer all: that they also may obtain salvation. For I came to give all an example how to live: proving in My own person by what way, with how much toil, and with what fruit the kingdom of rejoicing with Me for ever is attained.”

But I beseech Thee, Lord, abandon me not in the wilderness of this world: but be to me a cloud by day, as a shade from the heat of temptations: and a pillar of fire by night, to scatter the darkness of my mind. May my Lord, or His angel ever go before me; and lead me into the land flowing with milk and honey: that is to the tasting of interior sweetness. “I,” saith He, “will accomplish thy prayer: if thou wilt follow My holy manner of life. I have shown the way of penance: which leads to eternal glory. Follow Me through toil and tribulation: if thou wilt have repose and consolation. I fasted, I hungered, I was tempted and I resisted: I contemned the world and its glory, I overcame the devil and his counsel; that thou also by My example mayest learn to fast, watch, and pray, to despise the world, resist the devil, subdue the flesh: and continue in obedience even unto death. If therefore I have toiled so much for thy salvation, and endured such great abstinence, Who was and lived without sin; how much more shouldst thou, who wast born in sin, and still hast the concupiscence of sin, macerate thy flesh, and cut off every occasion of guilt? Endeavour then according to thy power to fulfil the law of fasting imposed on thee: hating rather the inordinate appetite of the stomach than the need of nature. I will gladly accept thy willing offering; and although it be little that thou dost, still a humble and clean oblation is ever pleasing to Me.”

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