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Book Club – The Imitation of Christ Week 2 of 10

December 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

The Imitation of Christ Week 2 of 10

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On Death

When you rise in the morning, think that you will not see evening; and when evening comes, do not be too certain that you will rise in the morning. Be always ready, therefore, and so live that death may not find you unprepared. For many, death comes suddenly and unexpectedly; the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. When your final hour arrives you will view your past life very differently, and your sorrow will be great for having been so easygoing and lackadaisical.

good portion picture1Wise and blessed is he, who, during life, strives to be what he would like to be when death finds him. Yes, you can be assured of a happy death if you wholeheartedly despise this world, earnestly desire to advance in virtue, love discipline, dwell in repentance, show prompt obedience, exercise self-denial, and patiently bear all trials for love of Christ. – The Imitation of Christ, p. 34 (Book I, Chapter 23)

Be always ready…words we have heard for some 2000 years, particularly during the Advent season. But these words never ring more true than after a horrific crime like that which took place in Newtown, CT this past Friday morning. How could any of those precious souls have possibly been prepared? As innocent victims they began what they expected to be a school day like any other – an ordinary day, in an ordinary town, with their ordinary routines. Neither they nor any of us could have even conceived of the tragedy that took place.

Our prayers are certainly with all those in Newtown, and many of us have been holding our own loved ones more closely in the wake of this evil. But the truth is that events like this serve as a grave means of reminding each of us to be prepared at every moment for the coming of our Lord – whether at the end of the world, or at the end of our own lives.

Will I be ready? When I read the above passage, I was particularly intrigued by the idea of reminding myself both when I wake and when I go to bed that these moments might be my last. This is very practical advice when rushing into daily activities risks an attachment to this world that would not provide for a “happy” death. Invocations to Divine Mercy throughout the day have helped me remember that it is God’s will alone that I seek – Jesus, I trust in You…Jesus, I trust in You…Jesus, I trust in You… In those frequent moments when I nearly lose myself in the chaos of this world, these words immediately envelop me in the arms of my Lord – gently reminding me that this life is not about ME – or MY will. Without those constant words – which serve as a beacon, directing me away from the danger of earthly worries and attachments, and back to the realization that this is NOT my REAL home – I easily forget. I get bogged down and I begin to live as though THIS life were an end in itself.

Growing up as a Protestant, I thought I had to make the decision to trust Christ with my life ONCE, and then I was saved! But that would imply that I trusted Him from then on, without question.  After eighteen years as a Catholic, I KNOW my original understanding was flawed, because too often I’m NOT Trusting in Him. I’m ensnared in one trap or another I’ve set for myself in this world – whether that attachment is physical, intellectual or emotional, it’s so easy to forget all about that commitment – and in those moments, I’m no longer living as a follower of Christ.

Sure, that initial commitment is important – but true commitment is made over and over again, day after day. Would my earthly spouse believe I was committed to him if I vowed devotion on my wedding day and then spent the next 50 years busy with career, children, friends and personal projects without giving him but a passing thought or comment as I rushed from one activity to another? Of course not. If my earthly spouse wants more from me, what then should my heavenly (eternal) spouse expect?!  As Father Larry Richards says – Our Heavenly Father loves us and He wants us to be happy for all eternity. When we die, He will give us what we love the most.

So what do I love most?  Do I love my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…or do I love something else?  My life will reveal the truth more than my words ever could.

I’ll give the last word to St. Francis de Sales, who addresses this subject poignantly in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

Consider that then the world is at an end, so far as regards you; there is none any more for you. Everything will then be reversed, all pleasures, vanities, worldly joys, and vain attachments will then appear as mere phantoms and vapors. Woe is me, for what delusive trifles have I offended my God! Then will you discover that you have forsaken God for nothing! On the other hand, how beautiful and desirable will good works and devotion then appear; why have you not followed on that holy and blessed road? Truly at that hour sins which before seemed as trifles will wax great as the mountains, and how faint, how weak, will your devotion then appear!

Consider the painful and final farewell which your soul must take of this lower world. It must take leave of wealth, of vanities and vain society, of pleasure, of amusements, of friends and neighbors, of parents and children, of husband and wife, in short of everything earthly. Last of all it must take leave of the body, which it will leave pale and sunken, forsaken, hideous, and vile.

Consider the haste with which that body will be hidden beneath the ground, and when that is done the world will scarcely bestow another thought upon you. You will in your turn be forgotten, as you have forgotten others. God rest his soul, will be said, and no more. O death, how unsparing, how pitiless thou art!

Consider that when the soul quits the body, it must go either to the left hand or the right. Whither will yours go? Which will be its path? Even such as it has chosen whilst on earth.

 

Discussion Questions:

1. How do you attempt to ensure that you will “be always ready” for death?

2.  Open discussion: Feel free to comment on any topic from this past week’s reading.

 

Reading Assignment:

Week 3: Book 2 Ch. 1-12

 

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

For More Information on the Book Club: http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

 

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • Robert Kraus

    Beautiful meditation today, especially in the wake of the recent tragedy. When I think of how it is possible for one’s life to be taken at any moment, it gives me pause as to my own life and how precious a gift it is that I’m here at all. Even the act of typing this, in my comfortable home, with the privilege of sharing in this spiritual dialogue with you all, is truly humbling. God bless everyone…

  • KAACD

    “Be always ready” is hard to follow. The world is full of attachments. I think of my children, grandchildren, parents and family when I think about my worldly attachments. I cannot take them with me, of course but Jesus said leave your mother and father and follow Me. This is when I kneel in humblness in front of Jesus and ask Him to help me with my “attachments” in this life, so I can be ready for eternal life with Him.

  • Jeanette

    How do I attempt to “be always ready for death”….By an examination of conscience at the end of each day. I ask the Holy Spirit to bring to my mind what I need to confess so that I may receive forgiveness, as I know that if I am contrite of heart, Jesus will forgive me because He is love, He is merciful and He is compassionate. I recommend this as an habitual practice to be always ready for death. And I pray for God’s grace so that I will not fail Him again. Like you, Vicky, I pray, “Jesus, I trust in You” often and this reminds me to abandon myself to His Will…that His Will be done, not mine and this is actually a great comfort to me. Thank you Vicky for this insightful meditation. 

  • cindy122461

    I prepare for death by listening to the Divine Praises http://divine-office.com/apps/divine-office-android/  on my new Android application. It is fun to see how many people are in prayer at any given time of day. I also read Diary of Divine Mercy and the Mystical City of God by Venerable Mary Agreda.

  • shellyb54

    There are a few passages that spoke to me more than others. Chapter 17 – You have come to serve, not to rule.Chaper 19 – As our intention is, so will be our progress…Chaper 20 – SEEK a suitable time for leisure and meditate often on the favors of God. Leave curiosities alone.What wonderful timing to be reading and sharing on this book during Advent. Thank you. My morning prayer is …. I rise in the Name of the Father, Who created me, The Son, Who redeemed me, And the Holy Spirit, Who sanctifies me, May the Blessed Trinity preserve me from All dangers of soul and body. Amen.

  • Inquisitor221B

    1. How do you attempt to ensure that you will “be always ready” for death?

    Being ready for death was forced on my 12 years ago when I had a brain tumor, then with subsequent spinal cord tumors, and most recently with pancreatic cancer. My family has a genetic cancer disease and I watched my beloved Dad die a brutal death at the hands of a brainstem tumor and kidney cancer at the same time I was battling pancreatic cancer. My little girls have the disease and a few months ago my oldest was diagnosed with her first tumor. Each day is a gift, but it is a gift with much pain and mortality that stares me in the face. I am a strong advocate of living in the moment, one day at a time, and being Catholic has brought me the blessing of understanding redemptive suffering. I think living in the “always ready” mode has helped me have a more content life, appreciate my life every day, and rely on God for every moment.

    • shellyb54

      I am so sorry for you and your family’s health problems. You probably understand the meaning of this book more than most and we could learn so much from you. Thank you for sharing and I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

  • carl641

    I have been blessed with good health all of my life. Two months ago while at the gym I began having chest pains while on the treadmill. Long story short, in short order I was down at the local hospital having a stent put in one of the arteries of my heart. This all happened in what seemed like a flash, and I was really made conscious of those words in scripture like ‘in the blink of an eye,’ ‘immediately,’ the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and so forth. I’ve thought a lot about how fast things happen and what I should be doing. I’ve come to realize that everything is in Gods hands. Most of the time I really don’t fully comprehend whats going on. Often I misunderstand. 

    So what can I do to be ready? I try to do the basic things we’ve been told to do to be prepared, attend mass, go to reconciliation, pray, try to live a Christian life, read, listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit and do what it says. When I do these things I find I have a peace. When I’m not doing something I should, or act or think badly, I don’t have that peace. When I’m fortunate enough to have that peace I figure all is well as far as I know as far as death goes. A couple things TK says come to mind, ‘You will rest peacefully if your heart has nothing against you.’ ‘You are what you are and you cannot be said to be greater than what God knows you to be.’I’m not saying that things can be reduced to a formula of going to mass, reconciliation etc.. In my mind, those are just things you have to do to stay alive, just like you have to eat to stay alive. What I mean is that the test I use to know whether I’m ready for death is if I have peace in my heart. I also know that I can easily deceive myself. That’s one of the reasons I’m participating in this. Everyone’s comments and insights are helpful to me

  • http://clinmarjo.blogspot.com/ Maryellen Jones

    I am 85: death
    draws near even though I’m reasonably healthy. I’m not able to get to daily Mass
    and communion any more. Not wanting to be caught by surprise, I make an act of
    contrition several times a day, followed by a Spiritual communion.
     
    There were
    several passages that I take to heart to help me prepare for a Happy Death

    Chapter
    16: Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure.  

    Chapter 20: No man
    deserves the consolation of heaven unless he persistently arouses himself to holy contrition.

    Chapter 23: Blessed is he who keeps the moment of death ever before his eyes and prepares for it every day.  

    Chapter 24: Learn, then, to suffer little things now that you may not have to suffer greater ones
    in eternity. Prove here what you can bear hereafter. If you can suffer only a
    little now, how will you be able to endure eternal torment?

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Thanks for your thoughts Maryellen – please type directly into the combox rather than copy and paste – I had to correct the text…

      • http://clinmarjo.blogspot.com/ Maryellen Jones

        Oops. Sorry. I wondered if that would work. I’ll type into the combox after this. Thanks
        Can you tell me why it is that when I leave a comment, there is a brief bio behind my name. It belongs to my account at Disgus, but I don’t like that, and I don’t see a bio on the comments of others. 

        • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

          No clue – I don’t see it.

        • LizEst

          I don’t know why it shows there. Perhaps, it is because you have a blog (is it with DISQUS?). Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that, unlike Dan, I do see your short bio by your name.

          By the way, I quickly stopped by your blog. It looks great!

          God bless you Maryellen.

          • http://clinmarjo.blogspot.com/ Maryellen Jones

            My blog is not with DISQUS. It’s blogger. Thanks for stopping by to see it. I only post about once a week. Thanks for the encouragement.

            Looking more closely, I note than my name is in red, and so is Dan’s, so I clicked on them and in both instances it brought up the blogs.

  • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

    Like Inquisitor, I have suffered life threatening and debilitating illness but for my entire life. As well, I have lost two siblings and a niece and have seen more death and devastation than most my age. For me, these very powerful voices of circumstance are a blessing to my soul as though I would NEVER choose to experience them, I believe they keep my life oriented toward my ultimate end. This is why the Church bids us to frequently meditate on death, judgement, heaven, and hell. In the best case, we should consider our last end daily and live in the joy of the moment as we work toward heaven. It is the only mode of life that makes any sense to me. It is why we do this work and why we should all seek to bring others to the Kingdom to prepare their souls for their ultimate end, the timing of which will be a surprise to every one of us.

  • Scott Kallal

    First of all, I’d like to thank all of you for your comments and for your commitment to becoming saints. It is really an honor for me to join you all in this discussion. To be always ready for death, I like to use what I call my “spiritual bookends:” daily morning offering and nightly examination of conscience. 

    For my morning offering, I have a slightly adapted version of Ignatius’ “Take and receive” prayer. For my examination of conscience I use a series of questions like: “What did I give/accomplish today?” “Who was I today?” “What did I learn today? What was our Lord trying to teach me?” “How did I use today to grow in holiness? to help others to grow in holiness?”

    May you all have a blessed week!

  • http://www.bigtopphotobooth.com/ DeAnne Ridge

    Be always ready is hard. I guess giving over to Jesus exclusively, which takes so much self-discipline, is the only way. Is that how you see it? It takes a daily, and even hourly re-examination of conscience and intention. Sometimes I get in a mood (yesterday) where I just can’t get out of my funk. It’s easier to say nothing than to try to be nice. I thought I was doing good for a while with giving my life to God exclusively, but then it got hard again. I guess that’s to keep me humble…

     I have always had a hard time reconciling the unless you hate your mother, father, sisters brothers and yet we are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. As I get older it does make more sense because Hate = Don’t Love as Much as Me. But to please God we show God’s love to everyone. Is this how you see it?

  • Becky Ward

    Part of my formation with the Disciples of Jesus and Mary includes parts of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He mentions this same type of thing in regard to making good decisions. One of which is to imagine oneself at the hour of death, or standing before the Lord for Judgment, and considering how we would have wanted to have made that decision at that time.
     
    Many have touched upon the topics of attachment and family in their comments. I have had particular difficulty in detaching from my family. It’s a big family, we did everything together, my siblings were my best friends….until my conversion, and now I can’t join in many of their pastimes or conversations anymore. I felt very disloyal…..but God provides for us when we are sincere in our efforts to put Him first.
     
    When we DO stand before God, we will be alone, and, stripped of all rationalizations and justifications…..and the evil voices whispering to us! We will see ourselves clearly, and will KNOW exactly how much we loved and served God during this earthly testing period.
     
    I am saddened to see those I love giving more loyalty to their favorite sports teams….or political party than they do to God. Yet we must remember that it is a gift to have our eyes opened….and we must pray for the same thing to happen to those we love and care about.
     
    God gives us a spiritual family – like all of those who visit this site – to help and support us on the journey!! He really IS right beside us each and every moment desiring to help us…..and longing for us to love Him and allow Him to love us AS HE WILLS!

    I try to remember to surrender ‘my understanding of how things “ought” to be’……..and to just stay out of His way!
     
     

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    Having been AWOL since December, 8th, I find the Post spot on and your Responses. truly illuminating. However, I am scantly-read about the Great Saints, the Doctors and the Fathers of the Church.

    My childhood Catechism Lessons did teach me the unforgettable importance of living each day as if it was my last one on this earth.  And when going to bed at night, to commend my Soul into the Loving Hands of my Heavenly Father to keep and should He decide to call me at night, to take my Soul unto Himself. So, my simple daily Prayer is short and to the point, I think:
    “My Merciful Jesus, come when You are ready and make me ready when You Come, Amen.” 

  • Victoria Campbell

    Since my own mother passed away and I was just 25, the reality of death and the unexpectedness of its timing has been before my eyes.  It has impacted decisions that I have made career vs stay at home mom as I realized from that time on that life is not forever.  Even as that reality has influenced my choices, I often feel that my journey toward preparation Spiritually is lacking.  I hear God speaking to me, I make resolutions and I drift away. My own mother long into my college days tucked me in with the Now I lay me down to sleep prayer which reminds me that I may die before I wake.  Her spirituality though not from the Catholic tradition had a profound effect on me and I am so thankful for this gift of faith that I received from my parents. These pages were a stark reminder to keep our eyes forever with heaven on our mind.  The more I live I see how nothing in this life truly satisfies or provides lasting peace so it prompts me to keep seeking that which is eternal.  I am a great hater of flying and used to have real anxiety but over the past few years when I do get on a plane it is a moment when I truly give myself over to God especially during takeoff and say in my heart I want to be ready when he takes me and I am prepared to go right now if that is what he wills and I am able to feel that I have nothing to fear at that moment as there is hope and promise for a much better reality.  Maybe that sounds a little kooky but for me personally it is a very powerful experience I just hope that when my time does come God finds me worthy of calling me to his home. 

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