On the Small Number of the Lovers of the Cross

Book 2, Chapter 11 of the Imitation of Christ: On the Small Number of the Lovers of the Cross  Cross 

1. JESUS has many lovers of His heavenly king­dom, but few cross-bearers. Many desire His consolation, but few His tribulation. Many will sit down with Him at table, but few will share His fast. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few will suffer for Him.  

Many will follow Him to the breaking of the bread, but few will drink the bitter cup of His Passion.

Many revere His miracles, but few fol­low the shame of His cross. Many love Jesus when all goes well with them, and praise Him when He does them a favor; but if Jesus conceals Himself and leaves them for a little while, they fall to complaining or become depressed.  

2. They who love Jesus purely for Himself and not for their own sake bless Him in all trouble and anguish as well as in time of consolation. Even if He never sent them consolation, they would still praise Him and give thanks.  

3. Oh how powerful is the pure love of Jesus,when not mixed with self-interest or self-love! Are not they to be called hirelings: who always look for comforts? And they who think only of their own advantage, do they not show them­selves to be lovers of self rather than of Christ? Where will a person be found ready to serve God without looking for a reward?  

4. It is hard to find anyone so spiritual who is willing to be stripped of all things. Where will you find a person truly poor in spirit and free from all attachment to creatures? Such a one is a rare treasure brought from distant shores ( Prov 31:14).  If we were to give up all our possessions, it is still nothing; if we did severe penance, it is but little; if we acquired all knowledge, still are we far from virtue. Even if we had great virtue and fer­vent devotion, we would be lacking that one thing necessary above all else. And what is that one thing? That leaving all things behind, we should leave self, renouncing our self completely and keeping nothing of self ­love.

And then when we have done all things that we know we ought to do, let us think that we have done nothing. We should not regard as great that which may be considered so by others, but rather let us in truth look upon ourselves as worthless servants   As our Lord, the Truth, has said: "When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, 'We are useless servants' " (Luke 17: 10). Then will we be truly poor in spirit and able to say with the Prophet: "I am alone and afflicted" (Ps 25: 16). Yet there is no one richer or more powerful, no one more free than we are if we know how to re­nounce ourselves and all things, putting our­selves in the lowest place.

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This is one of the most difficult of teachings to accept:  this 'need' for the Cross in our lives. It is so difficult to understand muchless embrace. And yet this is what Our Lord asks of His followers, this acceptance of all things from the Hand of God and seeing in them, whether they seem to us to be for good or for ill, and knowing that somehow in the loving Providence of our Heavenly Father, all things WILL work together for the good and for our sanctification. Sometimes it is SO very hard to see that and to continue to trust. Here are the words of a Saint to ponder on this subject:

Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: "Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven."

When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemd to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: "Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from his own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions. We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep aprticipation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul."

"If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights! No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men."

from the writings of Saint Rose of Lima

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