A few times over the years (most recently, here and here), I've mentioned that Thomas a Kempis' Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ) is on the short list of my very favorite books ever. First published around the year 1420, it reads like a medieval Christian Book of Proverbs - pithy wisdom for daily Christian life. Thomas was mainly writing for a monastic audience, but the wisdom in the Imitatio is just as applicable for any life of dedicated Christian discipleship.
I first picked up the Imitatio years ago, after reading a book about the 17th-century French Jesuit missionaries to the New World. Among the meager possessions they took with them into the wilderness were two books - the Bible and the Imitatio. I considered that to be a pretty compelling recommendation.
The wisdom of the Imitatio can be extremely challenging. More than once as I've read through it (more than once), I've found myself squirming in my seat, as Thomas brought Truth to bear, uncomfortably close to where I live.
I could go on and on, but honestly, it's unlikely that I could do any better than just to give you a brief sampling of wonderful quotes. . .
"On the Day of Judgment, we will not be asked what we have read, but what we have done."
"It is a hard thing to leave evil customs, and it is harder to break our own will, but it is most hard forever to lie in pain, and forever to lose the joy of Heaven."
"We seldom consider our neighbor in the same light as ourselves. Yet, if all men were perfect, what should we have to bear with in others for Christ's sake?"
"If you had a good conscience, you would not fear death so much, and it would be better for you to abandon sin than to fear death."
"All men are glad to live at peace, and prefer those who are of their own way of thinking. But to be able to live at peace among hard, obstinate and undisciplined people, and those who oppose us, is a great grace. . ."
"A pure heart penetrates both Heaven and Hell. As each man is in himself, so does he judge outward things. If there is any joy to be had in this world, the pure in heart most surely possess it. . ." (cf. Matthew 5:8, Titus 1:15, Psalm 18:26)
"A wise lover does not so much consider the gift of his lover as he does the love of the giver."
"Therefore make right use of this world's goods, but long only for those that are eternal."
". . . [H]e is not truly patient who will suffer only as much as he pleases, or from whom he pleases."
"All is not lost, though some things happen contrary to your will."
"'Come to me,' You say, 'all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you'. . . But who am I, O Lord, that I should presume to approach You? The very Heaven of Heavens cannot contain You; and yet You say, 'Come to me.'"
"Do not let [another] speak to me, therefore, but You, my Lord Jesus, . . . lest perhaps I die and be made like a man without fruit, warmed from without, but not aflame within, and so receive the harder judgment, because I have heard Your word and not done it, known it and not loved it, believed it and not fulfilled it."
Amen. . .