BY THOMAS A KEMPIS
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1941
CHAPTER 12: OF THE ROYAL ROAD OF THE HOLY CROSS
TO many this seemeth a hard saying: "Deny thyself, take up thy
cross, and follow Jesus."
But it will be much harder to hear that last word: "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire."
For they who now love to hear and follow the word of the Cross shall not then fear the sentence of eternal condemnation.
This Sign of the Cross shall be in Heaven when the Lord shall come to judge.
Then all the servants of the Cross, who in their lifetime have conformed themselves to Him that was crucified, shall come to Christ their Judge with great confidence.
2. Why, then, art thou afraid to take up thy cross, which leadeth to the kingdom?
In the cross is salvation; in the cross is life; in the cross is protection from enemies.
In the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the cross is strength of mind; in the cross is joy of spirit.
In the cross is height of virtue; in the cross is perfection of sanctity.
There is no health of soul, nor hope of eternal life, but in the cross.
Take up, therefore, thy cross, and follow Jesus, and thou shalt go into life everlasting.
He is gone before thee, carrying His Cross, and He died for thee upon the Cross, that thou mayst also bear thy cross, and love to die on the cross.
Because if thou die with Him, thou shalt also live with Him; and if thou art His companion in suffering, thou shalt also be His companion in glory.
3. Behold in the Cross all doth consist, and all lieth in our dying; and there is no other way to life and to true interior peace, but the way of the holy Cross, and of daily mortification.
Go where thou wilt, seek what thou wilt, and thou shalt not find a higher way above, nor a safer way below, than the way of the holy Cross.
Dispose and order all things according as thou wilt, and as seems best to thee, and thou wilt still find something to suffer, either willingly or unwillingly; and so thou shalt always find the cross.
For either thou shalt feel pain in the body, or sustain in thy soul tribulation of spirit.
4. Sometimes thou shalt be deserted by God: at other times shalt be afflicted by thy neighbor; and what is more, thou shalt often be a trouble to thyself.
Neither canst thou be delivered or eased by any remedy or comfort; but as long as it shall please God, thou must bear it.
For God willeth that thou learn to suffer tribulation without comfort, and wholly submit thyself to Him, and become more humble by tribulation.
No man hath so heartfelt a sense of the Passion of Christ as he whose lot it hath been to suffer like things.
The cross, therefore, is always ready, and everywhere awaiteth thee.
Thou canst not escape it, whithersoever thou runnest; for wheresoever thou goest, thou carriest thyself with thee, and shalt always find thyself.
Turn thyself upwards or turn thyself downwards; turn thyself inward or turn thyself outward; everywhere thou shalt find the cross.
And everywhere thou must of necessity hold fast patience, if thou desirest inward peace, and wouldst merit an eternal crown.
5. If thou carry the cross willingly, it will carry thee, and bring thee to thy desired end, namely, to that place where there will be an end of suffering, though here there will be no end.
If thou carry it unwillingly, thou makest it a burden to thee, and loadest thyself the more, and nevertheless thou must bear it.
If thou fling away one cross, without doubt thou wilt find another, and perhaps a heavier.
6. Dost thou think to escape that which no mortal ever could avoid? What Saint ever was in the world without his cross and tribulation?
For even our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was not for one hour of His life without the anguish of His Passion. "It behooved," said He, "that Christ should suffer, and rise from the dead, and so enter into His glory."
And how dost thou seek another way than this royal way, which is the way of the holy Cross?
7. The whole life of Christ was a Cross and a Martyrdom; and dost thou seek for thyself rest and joy?
Thou errest, thou errest, if thou seekest aught else than to suffer tribulation; for this whole mortal life is full of miseries, and everywhere marked with crosses.
And the higher a person is advanced in spirit, the heavier crosses shall he often meet with; because the pain of his banishment increaseth in proportion to his love.
8. Yet such a one, thus many ways afflicted, is not without some relief of consolation; because he is sensible of the very great profit he reaps by bearing the cross.
For whilst he willingly resigns himself to it, all the burden of tribulation is converted into an assured hope of comfort from God.
And the more the flesh is brought down by affliction, the more is the spirit strengthened by interior grace.
And sometimes he gaineth such strength through affection to tribulation and adversity, by his love of conformity to the Cross of Christ, as not to be willing to be without suffering and affliction; because such a one believeth himself to be so much the more acceptable to God, the more and more grievous things he shall have endured for His sake.
This is not man's power, but the grace of Christ; which doth and can effect such great things in frail flesh, and that what it naturally abhors and flies, even this, through fervor of spirit, it now embraces and loves.
9. To bear the cross, to love the cross, to chastise the body and bring it under subjection; to fly honors, to love to suffer insults, to despise one's self, and wish to be despised; to bear all adversities and losses, and to desire no prosperity in this world;-----all this is not according to man's natural inclination.
If thou lookest unto thyself, thou canst do nothing of this sort of thyself.
But if thou confidest in the Lord, strength will be given to thee from Heaven, and the world and the flesh shall be made subject to thee.
Neither shalt thou fear thine enemy, the devil, if thou art armed with faith, and signed with the Cross of Christ.
10. Set thyself, then, like a good and faithful servant of Christ, to bear manfully the Cross of thy Lord, for the love of Him Who was crucified for thee.
Prepare thyself to suffer many adversities, and divers evils, in this miserable life; for so it will be with thee, wherever thou art, and so indeed wilt thou find it, wheresoever thou hide thyself.
It must be so, and there is no remedy against tribulation and sorrow, but bear them patiently.
Drink of the chalice of thy Lord lovingly, if thou desirest to be His friend, and to have part with Him.
Leave consolations to God, to do with them as best pleaseth Him.
But be ready on thy part to bear tribulations, and account them the greatest consolations; for the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, although thou alone couldst suffer them all.
11. When thou shalt arrive thus far, that tribulation shall be sweet to thee, and thou shalt relish it for the love of Christ, then think that it is well with thee, for thou hast found a paradise upon earth.
As long as suffering is grievous to thee, and thou seekest to fly from it, so long shall it be ill with thee; and the (desire of) flying from tribulation shall pursue thee everywhere.
12. If thou set thyself to what thou oughtest, that is, to suffer and to die, it will quickly be better with thee, and thou shalt find peace.
Although thou shouldst have been rapt to the third heaven with St. Paul, thou art not thereby secured that thou shalt suffer no adversity: "I," said Jesus, "will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name."
To suffer, therefore, is what awaits thee, if thou art resolved to love Jesus, and constantly to serve Him.
13. Would to God thou wert worthy to suffer something for the Name of Jesus! how great glory would remain unto thyself! How great joy would it be to all the Saints of God! and how great edification to thy neighbor!
All recommend patience, but, alas, how few are there that desire to suffer!
With good reason oughtest thou willingly to suffer for Christ, since many suffer greater things for the world.
14. Know for certain that thou must lead a dying life; and the more a man dieth to himself, the more doth he begin to live unto God.
No man is fit to comprehend heavenly things who hath not resigned himself to suffer adversities for Christ.
Nothing is more acceptable to God, nothing more salutary for thee in this world, than to suffer willingly for Christ.
And if thou couldst make choice, thou oughtest to prefer to suffer adversities for Christ, than to be delighted with much consolation; because thus thou wouldst more resemble Christ, and be more likened to all the Saints.
For our merit, and the advancement of our state, consists not in having many sweetnesses and consolations; but rather in bearing great afflictions and tribulations.
If, indeed, there had been anything better, and more beneficial to man's salvation, than suffering, Christ certainly would have showed it by word and example.
For He manifestly exhorts both His disciples that followed Him, and all that desire to follow Him, to bear the cross, saying: "If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
So that when we have read and searched all, let this be the final conclusion, that "through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God."
CAN we read, believe, and ponder seriously the wonderful advantages of the cross, and the great merit of suffering, as here described, and not love to suffer, to receive crosses from the hands of Jesus Christ? And to submit to endure whatever He pleases, and as much as He pleases? Since to suffer much, and in a proper manner, is absolutely requisite for salvation, and is the most tender and efficacious effect of the goodness of God towards us, Who will not spare us the pains of time, that He may spare us those of eternity. It is to bear the visible character of the predestinate, which, according to St. Paul, consists in our resemblance to Jesus Christ, an humble, suffering, and persecuted God; it is to render ourselves worthy of His life of glory by participating in His life of suffering; it is to efface the punishment due to our sins by perfect repentance; it is to gain the heart of Jesus Christ, merit His love, avenge Him, and punish ourselves, honor Him by our destruction, and prefer His good pleasure before our own satisfaction. Shall not all this console thee under affliction, and animate thee to bear it with becoming resignation? Say, then, in the time of suffering, in order not to fail: "Hell, which I have deserved, is something more horrible than anything I can now endure; my Savior has suffered much more for me; and heaven is worth infinitely more than I can undergo."
PENETRATE my heart O Jesus, with these sentiments when Thou sendest me pain, and support me in all my afflictions: for, alas! Thou knowest how naturally I hate and fly from the cross, although I am persuaded that it was by the Cross Thou didst save me, and that I cannot gain salvation, nor enter into Heaven, but by the way of Calvary. Inspire me with that patience, that strength, and that courage which Thou didst impart to Thy Martyrs: and since I cannot better evince my love and gratitude towards Thee than by suffering for Thee, nor render myself more worthy of Thy grace and glory than by carrying the cross, vouchsafe to support me when sinking under its burden by the desire of pleasing Thee, and the hope of eternal happiness. Amen.