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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

(First Sermon)

THE children of the Jews taking olive I boughs: went out to meet the Lord. It gives pleasure to contemplate on this, the Feast of Palms, the solemn procession of holy Church: as also the devotion of the Jewish people honouring Christ with great joy and praise. For what the Jews bodily offered Christy living in the flesh: we ought to offer spiritually to the same, now reigning in Heaven. And it is beseeming to do this the more fondly with devout hymns and canticles: the more God loves the inner worship of our heart: and desires to bring us to the Jerusalem which is above. For on this account especially He came on earth: to recall the dwellers of earth to Heaven. On this account He hastened to the place of suffering: to make ready for us the habitation of a most happy home in Heaven. In token whereof also He ordered an ass and her colt to be brought to Him; and, meekly riding, led them into the city of the earthly Jerusalem, which is a figure of the blessedness of Heaven: that we might hope to be led back by Christ to life everlasting with the holy angels: Who shall raise our animal body from the dust of the earth: and shall clothe it with the glory of immortality in the future resurrection of the just. And to merit this who shall be able to be worthy? Assuredly he, who shall humble himself as a little child among the Hebrew children: and shall become as a pious beast of burden under the feet of Christ: showing himself ready in every place and time FOR THE GOOD PLEASURE OF GOD. For whosoever shows himself meek and humble among his brethren: and regards himself as a rough ass and unprofitable servant on account of some defect, or unfitness which he perceives in himself; he for his humble self-esteem will please Christ more and be nearer to Him: than that haughty Pharisee, who, like a proud horse, vaunted himself of his good deed. The simplicity of the ass, if he errs, shall be more excusable: than the perversity of the proud horse who kicks against the goad. Christ therefore chose the ass to ride for its meekness: He rejected the horse, which might neigh and bite others. Thus also Christ now takes the simple and lowly man to serve Him; and places on his back the yoke of holy religion: that by the law of life and discipline he may walk a straight and even road to the heavenly Jerusalem after death.

Consider, therefore, what and how great virtues Christ showed us by His human nature in this procession: Who, while He was supreme and rich and powerful above all, as the true Son of God according to the divinity; nevertheless, did not display the excellence of His majesty before the people by worldly pomp: but with much humility and meekness approached the city, rebellious against Him. This is our King, Whom John Baptist proclaimed as the Lamb, that was to come into the world: Who for the salvation of the human race drew near to the place of suffering, to accomplish the work of our redemption: as it had been revealed to the holy patriarchs and prophets. He did not turn aside from the face of His enemies: nor dread the holy place, because of the malice of the people; but with the greatest charity and compassion approached to the envious and enraged, to calm their passions: moreover for their coming excesses and evil deeds He mourned and wept. He heeded not the applause and praise of men: but had His eye open to the future dangers of the perverse: speaking thus to them that securely rejoiced: “For if thou also hadst known what things threaten thee: thou wouldst doubtless rather grieve and weep with Me.” “For the heart of the wise is where there is mourning: and the heart of the fool where there is mirth.” For by sadness the soul of the sinner is amended: and by mirth the state of the religious mind often becomes dissolute. And so much the further is a man from God and the colder in himself: the more intensely and the longer he is engaged in external affairs. The Lord therefore gave good counsel to those that are in honour, and in repute with men, and take pleasure in the society of friends, namely, that they turn their eyes from things present: and weigh with earnest thought, how speedily these trivial joys pass away. Wherefore let the distracted soul come back to the actions of Christ, performed this day: and cast aside all worldly occupations; gather flowers of good thoughts from Holy Writ: and with interior exercises, as with fresh palms, hasten to meet the heavenly King. And even if she behold, or hear in the chanting some outward matters pertaining to the feast, let her not tarry merely there: but diligently seek what saving mystery be concealed herein.

It is to be remarked therefore that in to-day’s procession of Christ six classes of the good are found: who honour the approach of Christ by some pious act. Some go before, others follow: some cut down boughs; others spread their garments: some bear, and others walk near the King. No one stands here idle: no one is intent on chatter; each man keeps his place: each joyfully fulfils his duty. But these things can be beautifully understood in a mystic and moral sense: and so interpreted to the instruction of faith and the discipline of morals. Thus, those, who go before Christ, are the patriarchs and prophets; who foretold many mysteries concerning Christ to the people: and desired with great desire to see Christ. But those, who follow Christ, are His disciples and other faithful converted by Christ; who, forsaking their possessions and worldly cares, perfectly imitated Christ: and drew many others by word and example to a good life. And those, who cut down branches from the trees, are the rulers of churches and preachers of the word of God throughout the world; who by their study gather, as so many flowers and leafy boughs, beautiful and profitable sayings from the holy books and treatises of the doctors: which afterwards, preaching in the church, they faithfully display to the people. And lest weak or ignorant hearers should dash their foot against a stone of scandal on the way, because of the difficulty of the commandments: therefore to make smooth the path of heavenly life, good teachers bring forth many examples of the saints, as flowers of roses and lilies of the valley; alleging now the patience of the martyrs, now the toils of confessors: now the modesty of virgins. But those, who lay their garments in the way; are the good dispensers of worldly goods, who refresh with meat and drink the poor and beggars: lest they faint on the way, by reason of their daily sufferings. These then take of the things that are superfluous for them and also some things that are needful, both of clothing and money: to give mercifully to the naked and needy; thereby, through earthly alms bestowed for Christ: to receive eternal rewards in the kingdom of God after the burial of their bodies. There were formerly in holy Church many thus ardently burning with divine love: who not only gave exterior and temporal things to the poor, or by vow forsook everything: but also in time of persecution delivered their bodies to divers torments for the faith of Christ. These certainly, above other despisers of the world in the way of God and the procession of Christ, threw down their bodies, as if they were garments and heavy burdens to their souls, and cast them on the ground to be trodden on by evil men; so that they might receive with the holy angels, amid the joys of Heaven, everlasting crowns: for all the tortures inflicted on them in time. But those, who bear Christ, are the ass and her colt: having upon them indeed the garments of the apostles, but going forward at the word of Christ. By these are signified good and devout religious, forsaking the world; who enter the cloister, called to Christ by the teaching of the apostles: take upon them by a rule His sweet yoke and light burden; loving chastity, observing obedience: and living under the discipline of superiors; holding the bit of silence in their mouth: and humbly bowing their back and neck to correction under the rod; and bearing all this for the sake of Christ, Who called them from the vanity of the world, and bound them to His service: piously and willingly throughout the space of their whole life.

But those, who walk on the way near the King, are the apostles: and they from the side catch brief glimpses of His countenance. These are contemplative men, utterly separated from affairs of the world; given chiefly to solitude and silence: often intent upon prayer, reading, holy meditation; and languishing with frequent sighs for the things of Heaven, with utmost desire they long to see Christ in His glory; and by a special grace, interiorly recollected and sometimes suddenly lifted above themselves in the spirit: for a brief space they gaze upon the face of Christ, as it were in a side glance. For deeming all visible and created goods as nothing and of no moment, for the greatness of His sweetness: they despise and cast away every thing, that holds back and hinders leisure in God.

From the foregoing gather that there are two orders of them that praise the Lord; one, which goes before: the other, which follows Christ. And all these with one voice sing in harmony; all proclaim that Christ has come in the flesh: and confess Christ the King born of the seed of David. By these singers are befittingly designated the ministers of holy Church, appointed to chant, and to celebrate the Divine Office; who at certain seasons recite psalms, hymns and other canticles taken from the histories of the Old and the New Testament to the praise of God: and singing with cheerful heart and mouth, strive to raise themselves and others to the heavenly promises; lest, wearied by the fatigue and labour of the present life, they be delayed in their arrival at the heavenly Jerusalem: whither to-day Christ, the King of Israel, our Creator, of His own will preceded us by the cross. Each, according to his state and order and office: shall receive his own reward in proportion to his toil. Every faithful servant of God then, whether he be a cleric, or tonsured monk, or beneficed priest, ought to be very diligent and ready to sing in the church in the sight of Christ and the saints; and take example from the Hebrew children: who praised Christ with a loud voice even to the highest heavens. For as often as a cleric, or monk chants less livelily in the choir, or withdraws his voice: or also, engaged with vain fancies, thinks over outside matters, and gives scant heed to each divine word; so often does he lose a precious jewel from the crown of his head: and suffer a beautiful and very sweet-smelling rose to be stolen and carried away from the sanctuary of God by the enemy. Let therefore the religious, honoured with the title of chorister of Christ, appointed to chant and pray to God, take care: that as soon as the bell is rung for the canonical Hours, he come not slowly to choir; and stand not there with weariness and wandering mind: lest perchance the deceitful enemy secretly enter, and take the psalm from his mouth, or the meaning from his heart; and he lose the merit of his holy labour by his heedlessness: and offend Christ and the holy angels, because he has done his duty ill. So much for the praise and singing of the good children: to excite the devotion of all religious.

But now let us take further pleasure in examining the apparel and appearance of our humble King, seated upon the colt of an ass: Who, when He was in the midst of the rejoicing people, showed no smile, but wept. Nowhere in all the pages of the Old Testament do I find any of the kings of Israel, or Jerusalem, riding so numbly: or without warlike arms and sounding trumpets hastening against the enemy. Nowhere in all the life of Christ do I find any such action; as now on this day our Saviour performed in the presence of so great a multitude of people singing together: and therefore there is cause to wonder in so unusual a proceeding. Finally, we read that Jesus often went through the cities and towns, preaching the word of God: also that He was wearied with His journey; but still I do not learn that He made use of the service of any beast of burden, to be seated more at His ease: or to arrive more speedily at the place desired. “But who hath known the mind of the Lord; or who hath been His counsellor?” I believe and remark that this was a divine counsel; to fulfil the holy word of the prophet long before foretold: that Christ, the King of Israel, was to come in lowly guise and the spirit of meekness. Many perhaps knew not of whom the prophet spake: but when Christ in His own person fulfilled in deed, what the prophet had formerly precisely expressed by words; then without a doubt it was believed and well understood, that of Him it had been written: “and these things they did to Him,” as blessed John testifies. Christ therefore came, the King of kings, the Lord, not in the hand of might to fill men with fear, as worldly princes do: but to give an example of humility, whereby they might easily direct their steps to the heavenly kingdom. For there is a great distance between the King of Heaven and of the world: between poor Christ and wealthy Solomon. For Solomon commencing to reign in Jerusalem, was set upon the mule of King David; but Christ, in the beginning of His conflict with the devil, sat upon the colt of an ass. The former mounted to the sound of the trumpet: the latter, to the singing of children. The former rejoiced, clothed in royal apparel: the latter wept, because of the peril of the city, where David reigned thirty-three years. In which action indeed He showed that he belonged to David’s race: Who, claiming the heritage of His fathers, entered the temple of Solomon; which also He honoured, rendering it illustrious by glorious signs and teaching: healing the sick and instructing the people. Whence also the people, rejoicing greatly in the coming of Christ their King, cried: “A blessing that the kingdom of our father David has come: hosanna in the highest.” But it seems strange, that a rude and ignorant people, was not ashamed of so poor a king: nor offended at His lowly guise. For there was in Him no outward show of royal splendour; but, as before He was wont to go barefoot and with uncovered head: so now He approached the royal city devoid of all kingly apparel. And they were not scandalized in Him, because He came poor; but turned the eyes of their mind to the proofs of His divinity: and were the more edified by the lowliness of His raiment. O Jerusalem, behold thy King’s humility and meekness and justice and poverty, above all the kings of the earth; for, lo, He comes without the armour of strong men, without the sound of trumpets, without horses and mules: without sword and breastplate, without shield and lance; without bow and arrow, without crown of gold, without mitre, without fillet: without girdle, without cloak, without helmet, without bonnet; without buskins, without bridle, without spurs, without standard, without sceptre: without all earthly tumult and military pomp. For all this belongs not to His charge and wont: Who came to teach contempt of the world by word and example. But He took in His riding a poor animal accustomed to the yoke, in token of poverty and innocence; that from His humble gait He might appear loving and lovable: rather than a terrible king and hard master. He took, as His company, poor and unarmed men; the wealthy and mighty He sent away: because His kingdom was not of this world, but of Heaven from eternity. In much He went contrary to earthly kings and princes; because He came to call the humble and poor, such as were His disciples: to whom he promised to give the kingdom of God, which no man shall be able to take from them by force. Whereto by His grace may He deign to bring us, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, the King of glory: Who is above all God, blessed for ever. Amen.

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