The Imitation of Christ with a Commentary
and Audio Files
by Father Thomas
of the Canons Regular of Mount
(1380 - 1471)
following pages are dedicated to the Little Hearts entrusted by God
to Cloistered Poor Clare Colettine Nuns
Prudence in Action
NOT yield to every impulse and suggestion but consider
things carefully and patiently in the light of God’s
will. For very often, sad to say, we are so weak that
we believe and speak evil of others rather than good.
Perfect men, however, do not readily believe every talebearer,
because they know that human frailty is prone to evil
and is likely to appear in speech.
Not to act rashly or to cling obstinately to one’s opinion,
not to believe everything people say or to spread abroad
the gossip one has heard, is great wisdom.
Take counsel with a wise and conscientious man. Seek
the advice of your betters in preference to following
your own inclinations.
A good life makes a man wise according to God and gives
him experience in many things, for the more humble he
is and the more subject to God, the wiser and the more
at peace he will be in all things.”
here to listen to this chapter
you realize that when you disclose
the sin of another, you become guilty of that sin ... and more,
for you add to it the sin of slander and gossip! Whether publicly
privately (you know, “I shouldn't tell you this, but ...”,
you and me ...”, “I am telling you this in secret ...” — sound
familiar?) when you uncover, disclose,
reveal the sin of another to anyone under any circumstances
... you make that sin your own. And with the sin the guilt. And
with the guilt the just punishment (that in
all likelihood you would happily see visited upon your neighbor
who sinned first).
Read that again.
This chapter possesses great wisdom in few words. It reaffirms our
need to pray over the human encounters that we have with others
in our daily lives.
We have all seen the havoc, the damage , disaster and wreckage that
a hurricane, a tsunami, or an earthquake can bring. Equally devastating
and as broadly destructive can be the havoc and chaos wrought by
the human tongue when it is not tethered by love and breaks loose
of the Commandments of God. Like the tsunami, its effects extend
far beyond what we could possibly anticipate. It is whispered in
one ear ... and pours out of the mouths of thousands. Would that
the Gospel were communicated so quickly, so broadly ... and so eagerly!
Saint James unsparingly warns us of the danger of the human tongue:
and he does so in absolutely clear and unambiguous terms:
“The tongue is a fire,
a world of iniquity. The tongue is placed among our
members, which defileth the whole body, and inflameth
the wheel of our nativity, being set on fire by hell.
For every nature of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents,
and of the rest, is tamed, and hath been tamed, by the
nature of man: But the tongue no man can tame, an unquiet
evil, full of deadly poison.”1
Thomas A Kempis is doing likewise.
Human relationships (which are always delicate), families, and even
entire communities can be so severely wounded if not utterly broken
and scattered, by the malicious activity of the tongue which lends
itself so easily to the evil of gossip and tale bearing.
We have such a tremendous personal responsibility in our
conversations and verbal exchanges — and few of us take thought
of it. The words leave our mouths and as quickly as they pass,
so does our responsibility for anything that ensues as a result
of them — or so we mistakenly think. They are, after all, “just
words”, uttered in mere seconds — and kept in the same
confidence in which you had kept it ... which is to say, none!
But you cannot call them back! As Confucius wisely observed,
“One cannot unsay what one has said.”
Be the floodgate against that tide of poison! Let is stop with you
and go no further! Your “confidential friend” does not live in isolation,
and neither do you. If she has spoken ill of another, betrayed the
trust of another, revealed the sin of another, she will speak ill
of you, as easily betray you, and reveal your own sins and indiscretions
as readily as she revealed the sins of others to you — and with
the same false promise with which she first disclosed it to you.
In many ways, by their
tongues you will know your friends.
Needless to say, in our own conversations many of us are guilty
of proffering “tidbits” of lethal information that can easily assassinate
the character of another. How reluctant, how slow we are to cloak
the actions of others in charity rather than exposing them to shame!
We must recognize and be aware of this sinfulness within us that
wittingly or not lures others, subtly encourages others, to also
propagate sin through gossip. This much needed awareness should
make us, at such times of temptation, to choose to die to our selves
and our own wills and desires and to choose what we know God would
have of us. No sin, we soon come to find, is entirely personal after
all; it always affects, and most often poisons, others.
What, then, are we to do in the problematic situation where, in
some way or another, we become involved in an encounter fraught
with moral or spiritual danger to another?
Are we to say nothing? Do nothing? Let evil pass?
It is a false concept of charity if we see a person in moral danger,
from sex, drugs, drink and make “charitable excuses” for them, which
not oinly pander to their sins but perpetuate them because we do
not have the courage of the conviction to help them. We have a
duty to protect and nurture life. It is a three-fold duty: to
God Who created them and loves them, to they themselves who
either fail to apprehend the good or have not the strength to
seize it, and to ourselves upon whom it is incumbent to be "our
But, in such a given situation, first we must first carefully examine
our own motivations and intentions with great honestly, being certain
of facts (not our imaginings!) and speaking directly — and discreetly
— to those involved. Christ Himself tells us very clearly,
“If thy brother shall offend against thee,
go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone.”
Some situations may be more difficult and delicate. Thomas gives
such wise advice here: seek counsel from those in a position to
do so, a priest, someone anointed to care and guide souls. What
the Priest may say may or may not be pleasing to you, but obey his
directives, and God who sees your obedience and desire for good
will bring some greater good out of the situation than any counsel
that you alone can impart.
Saint Francis de Sales speaks of this eloquently and at greater
length in his renowned spiritual work, "An Introduction to the
Devout Life” which should be, together with the “Imitation
of Christ” and “Abandonment to Divine Providence” by
Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade (with the translation by John
Beevers), on the reading list of every Catholic. For
De Sale's treatment on this subject is available as a printable
PDF file by clicking here.
It is wonderful and profitable reading!
Saint James 3.6-8
2 Saint Matthew 18.15
Your Little Sisters in Christ
PDF Version of Sister's Commentary