David Warren has a timely post here. I completely agree with his view of “The Imitation of Christ”, by Thomas a Kempis. I have been reading it, both linearly and using the “open it anywhere” method for years now. It never grows old. My personal version of “The Little Brown Book” is a Baronius Press imprint from 2008 of the Richard Challoner translation from the 18th century. It is available as a free eBook at Gutenberg.org. A couple of passages from where I am in the book right now are particularly comforting in my current state of mind:
“Chapter XLIV Deadness to Exterior Things”
SON, in many things it behooveth thee to be ignorant, and to esteem thyself as one dead upon earth; as one to whom the whole world is crucified. Many things also must thou pass by with a deaf ear and think rather of those things that appertain to thy peace.
It is more profitable to turn away thine eyes from such things as displease thee, and to leave to everyone his own way of thinking, than to give way to contentious discourses.
If thou stand well with God, and look at His judgement, thou will more easily bear to see thyself overcome.
2. O Lord, to what are we come? Behold a temporal loss is greatly bewailed; for a small gain men labour and toil, but the loss of the soul is little thought of, and hardly returns to mind.
That which is of little or no profit takes up our thoughts; and that which is above all things necessary, is negligently passed over; for the whole man sinks down into outward things, and unless he quickly recovers himself, he willingly continues immersed in them.
“CHAPTER XLV Men Are Prone to Offend”
GRANT me help, O Lord, from trouble, for vain is the salvation of man. (Ps 59:13).
How often have I not failed to find faith there where I thought I might depend upon it. And how often have I found it where I did not expect it? Vain, therefore, is all hope in men; but the safety of the just is in Thee, O Lord. Blessed be Thou, O Lord my God, in all tings that befall us.
We are weak and unsettled, we are quickly deceived and changed.
2. Who is the man that is able to keep him self so warily, and with so much circumspection in all things, as not to fall sometimes into some deceit or perplexity? But he that trusts in Thee, O Lord, and seeks Thee with a simple heart does not so easily fall (Wis. 1:11).
And if he fall into some tribulation, in what manner soever he may be entangled therein, he will quickly be rescued and comforted by Thee; for Thou wilt not forsake forever him that trusts in Thee. (Ps. 36:28). A trusty friend is rarely to be found that continues faithful in all the distresses of his friend. (Ecclus. 6:10). Thou, O Lord, Thou alone are most faithful in all things, and besides Thee, there are no other such.
3. Oh, how wise was that holy soul that said, My mind is strongly settled and grounded upon Christ. (Eph. 3:17). If it were so with me the fear of man would not so easily give me trouble, now flying words move me. Who can foresee all things, or who is able to provide against all future evils? If things foreseen do nevertheless often hurt us, how can things unlooked for fail of wounding us grieviously?
But why did I not provide better for myself, miserable wretch that I am! Why also have I also so easily given credit to others! But we are men and but frail men though by many we are reputed and called angels. To whom shall I give credit O Lord? To whom but to Thee? Thou art the truth which neither canst deceive, nor be deceived. (John 14:6). And on the other side, every man is a liar (Ps. 115:11), infirm, unstable, and subject to fail, especially in words; so that we ought not readily to believe even that which in appearance seems to sound well.
4. How wisely didst Thou forewarn us to beware of men (Matt. 10:17), and that a man’s enemies are they of his own household (Matt. 36); and that we are not to believe, if anyone should say “Behold here, or behold there.” (Matt. 24:23). I have been taught to my cost, and I wish it may serve to make me more cautious, and not to increase my folly. “Be wary,” saith one, “be wary, keep to thyself what I tell thee.” and whilst I hold my peace, and believe the matter to be secret, he himself cannot keep the secret which he desires me to keep, but presently betrays both me and himself, and goes his way.
From such tales and such incautious people defend me, O Lord, that I may not fall into their hands, or ever commit the like. Give to my mouth truth and constancy in my words, and remove far from me a crafty tongue. What I am not willing to suffer I ought by all means to shun.
5. Oh, how good a thing and how peaceable it is to be silent of others (Prov. 25:9), now to believe all that is said, nor easily to report what one has heard:
To lay one’s self open to few; always seek Thee, the beholder of the heart; Not to be carried about with every wind of words; but to wish that all things, both within and without us may go according to the pleasure of Thy will. How secure it is for the keeping of heavenly grace to fly the sight of men; and not to seek those things which seem to cause admiration abroad; but with all diligence to follow that which brings amendment of life and fervour. To how many hath it been hurtful to have their virtue known and over-hastily praised.
How profitable indeed hath grace been kept with silence in this frail life! All which is a state of temptation and a warfare.