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The Imitation of Christ
trans. Ronald Knox & Michael Oakley
New York, Sheed & Ward, 1962
Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur
"The Imitation of Christ" is one of those spiritual classics that should be on everyone's bookshelf. Written over five hundred years ago and aimed primarily at those in monastic life, it has a message extremely relevant for today for those in all walks of life. The aim of "The Imitation of Christ" is to instruct those who wish to follow Christ how to "fashion his whole life on Christ's model."
Much of the book is dedicated to the quest for humility, following Jesus' example of serving all and putting the needs of others before oneself. "Claim nothing for yourself, think of others kindly and with admiration; that is the height of wisdom, and its masterpiece. . . . To be humble is to enjoy undisturbed peace of mind, while the proud heart is swept by gusts of envy and resentment."
Thomas À Kempis has a very realistic view of humanity, however. While his standards are high, he is well aware that we will fail on a regular basis. He maintains that "there will always be faults in ourselves, faults in others, which defy correction. . . at the same time, you do well to pray about such inconveniences; ask God in his mercy to help you bear them calmly." While maintaining this pragmatic attitude, he never-the-less encourages followers of Christ to keep up the fight, to continue to strive for perfection, work on one's faults and seek forgiveness. He encourages all of us to always be prepared for death because we do not know the hour in which it will come. We must always be ready to meet our maker.
There is also a definite emphasis on detachment from created things and concern about the approval of others. One should focus on prayer and serving God and others at all time. Attachment to the things and accolades of this world will not lead to peace. Obviously, the road is not easy. The farther one travels on the spiritual journey, the greater the trials. One must, like Jesus, be willing to pick up his cross. "You ought gladly to suffer a little for Christ's sake; there are many who suffer far worse for worldly interests."
"The Imitation of Christ" lays out such a wonderful plan for life. The standards are incredibly high but they are the standards that Jesus himself set out for us. This book has been the companion of saints for centuries. One could ask for no better endorsement.
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is editor of www.spiritualwoman.net. Visit her blog at spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com