BY THOMAS A KEMPIS
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1941
CHAPTER 18: OF THE EXAMPLES OF THE HOLY FATHERS
LOOK upon the lively examples of the holy Fathers, in whom shone real perfection and the religious life, and thou wilt see how little it is, and almost nothing, that we do.
Alas, what is our life, if it be compared with theirs!
Saints, and friends of Christ, they served our Lord in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in labor and weariness, in watchings and fastings. In prayers and holy mediations, in frequent persecutions and reproaches.
2. Oh, how many and grievous tribulations did the Apostles suffer, and the Martyrs, and Confessors, and Virgins, and all the rest who resolved to follow the steps of Christ!
For they hated their lives in this world, that they might keep them unto life eternal.
Oh, what a strict and self-renouncing life the holy Fathers of the desert led! What long and grievous temptations did they bear! How often were they harassed by the enemy! What frequent and fervent prayers offered they up to God! What rigorous abstinence did they practice! What great zeal, and fervor had they for spiritual progress! What a valiant contest waged they to subdue their imperfections! What purity and straight forwardness of purpose kept they towards God!
By day they labored, and much of the night they spent in prayer; though while they labored, they were far from leaving off mental prayer.
3. They spent all their time profitably, every hour seemed short to spend with God; and even their necessary bodily refection was forgotten in the great sweetness of contemplation.
They renounced all riches, dignities, honors, friends, and kindred; they hardly took what was necessary for life; it grieved them to serve the body even in its necessity.
Accordingly, they were poor in earthly things, but very rich in grace and virtues.
Outwardly they suffered want, but within, they were refreshed with grace and Divine consolation.
4. They were aliens to the world, but they were very near and familiar friends of God.
To themselves they seemed as nothing, and the world despised them; but they were precious and beloved in the eyes of God.
They persevered in true humility, they lived in simple obedience, they walked in charity and patience: and so every day they advanced in spirit, and gained great favor with God.
They were given for an example to all religious; and ought more to excite us to advance in good, than the number of the lukewarm induce us to grow remiss.
5. Oh, how great was the fervor of all religious in the beginning of their holy institute!
Oh, how great was their devotion in prayer! How great their zeal for virtue! How vigorous the discipline that was kept up! What reverence and obedience, under the rule of the superior, flourished in all!
Their traces that remain still bear witness, that they were truly holy and perfect men who did battle so stoutly, and trampled the world under their feet.
Now he is thought great who is not a transgressor; and who can with patience endure what he hath undertaken.
6. Ah, the lukewarmness and negligence of our state! that we soon fall away from our first fervor, and are even now tired of life from slothfulness and tepidity.
Oh, that advancement in virtue be not quite asleep in thee, who hast so often seen the manifold examples of the devout!
NOTHING can so powerfully excite us to live holily as the example of those who are holy. Example convinces us of the possibility of virtue, makes it practicable and easy, and offers it to us already illustrated in others, and, as it were, prepared for our exercise. For, when we read the lives of witness the examples of the Saints, we naturally say to ourselves: See what men like ourselves have done, and suffered, and forsaken, for the kingdom of Heaven, which is equally the object of our hopes. But what have we done to obtain it? Why do we not exert ourselves as they did to become worthy of the same recompense? Alas! I have reason to apprehend that when I shall appear before God, He will compare my life with my faith, with my religion, and with the examples of holy men who have lived in the same state at life as myself; and, confronting me with these witnesses, will say to me: See what thou shouldst have done, and how thou hast neglected it; judge thou thyself; what dost thou deserve?
ENTER not, O Lord, into judgment with Thy servant; for my life, when compared with the conduct of the Saints, can never justify me. Grant me the grace which Thou, my Savior, didst merit for me, of attending to the discharge of my duties, of entering into the spirit of religion, of observing its rules and maxims, and of conforming my life to my faith, that so, when I appear before Thee, I may be clothed in the robes of Thy justice, supported by Thy mercy, and animated with Thy love. Amen.