Imitation of Christ, Book II, Chapter 12

Of the Royal Way of the Holy Cross

TO MANY this seems a hard saying: “Deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow Jesus.”

But it will be much harder to hear that last word: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.”

For they that at present willingly hear and follow the word of the cross shall not then be afraid of eternal condemnation.

This Sign of the Cross will be in Heaven when the Lord shall come to judge. Then all the servants of the cross, who in their lifetime have conformed themselves to Him that was crucified, shall come to Christ their judge with great confidence.

2. Why then are you afraid to take up your cross, which leads to a kingdom? In the cross is salvation; in the cross is life; in the cross is protection from your enemies. In the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the cross is strength of mind; in the cross is joy of spirit. In the cross is the height of virtue; in the cross is the perfection of sanctity.

There is no health of the soul nor hope of eternal life but in the cross. Take up, therefore, thy cross and follow Jesus, and you shall go into life everlasting. He is gone before you carrying His own Cross; and He died for you upon the Cross that you may also bear your cross and love to die on the cross.

Because if you die with Him you shall also live with Him, and if you are His companion in suffering you shall also partake in His glory.

3. Behold the cross is all and in dying to yourself all consists, and there is no other way to life and to true internal peace but the holy way of the cross and of daily mortification.

Go where you will, seek what you will, and you shall not find a higher way above, nor a safer way below than the way of the holy cross.

Dispose and order all things according as you will and as seems best to you, and you will still find something to suffer, either willingly or unwillingly, an so you shall still find the cross. For either you shall feel pain in the body, or sustain in your soul tribulation of spirit.

4. Sometimes you shall be left by God, other times you shall be afflicted by your neighbor, and what is more, you shall often be a trouble to yourself. Neither can you be delivered or eased by any remedy or comfort, but as long as it shall please God you must bear it.

For God would have you learn to suffer tribulation without comfort, and wholly to submit yourself to Him, and to become more humble by tribulation.

No man has so lively a feeling of the Passion of Christ as he who has happened to suffer suchlike things.

The cross, therefore, is always ready and waits for you everywhere.

You cannot escape it, no matter where you run. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you and will always find yourself.

Turn yourself upwards, or turn yourself downwards; turn yourself without, or turn yourself within, and everywhere you will find the cross.

And everywhere you must, out of necessity, have patience if you desire inward peace and would merit an eternal crown.

5. If you carry the cross willingly, it will carry you and bring to your desired end; to wit to that place where there will be an end of suffering, though here there will be no end.

If you carry it unwillingly, you make it a burden for yourself and it becomes even heavier to carry; nevertheless, you must bear it.

If you fling away one cross, without doubt, you will find another and perhaps it would even be heavier.

6. Do you think you can escape that which no mortal could ever avoid? What saint was there in the world without his cross and affliction?

Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was not one hour of His Life without suffering: “It behooved Christ to suffer,” He said, “and rise again from the dead, and so enter into his glory.”

Any why do you pretend to seek another way than this royal way, which is the way of the holy cross?

7. The whole life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom, and do you seek rest and joy?

You err, you err, if you seek any other thing than to suffer tribulations; for this whole mortal life is full of miseries and surrounded on all sides with crosses.

And the higher a person is advanced in spirit the heavier crosses he will often meet, because the pain of his banishment increases in proportion to his love.

8. Yet this man, afflicted in many ways, is not without some allay of comfort, because he is sensible of the great profit which he reaps by bearing the cross.

For while he willingly resigns himself to it, all the burden of tribulation is converted into an assured hope of comfort from God. And the more the flesh is brought down by affliction, the more the spirit is strengthened by inward grace.

And it sometimes gains such strength through affliction to tribulation and adversity, by loving to be comfortable to the Cross of Christ, as not to be willing to be without suffering and affliction; because it is confident that it is so much the more acceptable to God, as it shall be able to bear more and greater things for Him.

This is not man’s power, but the grace of Christ, which can and does effect such great things in frail flesh, that what it naturally abhors and flies, even this, through fervor of spirit, it now embraces and loves.

9. To bear the cross, to love the cross, to chastise the body, and bring it under subjection; to fly honors, to be willing to suffer reproaches, to despise one’s self and wish to be despised; to bear all adversities and losses, and to desire no prosperity in this world, are not according to man’s natural inclination.

If you look upon yourself, you can do nothing of this yourself.

But if you confide in the Lord, strength will be given to you from Heaven, and the world and the flesh will be made subject to you.

Neither shall you fear your enemy, the devil, if you are armed with faith and signed with the Cross of Christ.

10. Set yourself then like a good and faithful servant of Christ, to bear manfully the Cross of your Lord, crucified for the love of thee. Prepare yourself to suffer many adversities and divers evils in this miserable life; for so it will be with you wherever you are, and so indeed will you find it where you may hide yourself.

It must be so, and there is no remedy against the tribulation of evil and sorrow but to bear them patiently. Drink of the chalice of your Lord lovingly if you desire to be His friend and to have part with Him. Leave consolations to God, to do with them as best pleases Him.

But prepare yourself to bear tribulations, and account them the greatest consolations; for the sufferings of this life bear no proportion to the glory to come, although you alone could suffer them all.

11. When you shall arrive thus far, that tribulation becomes sweet and savory to you for the love of Christ, then think that it is well with you, for you have found a paradise upon earth.

As long as suffering appears grievous to you and you seek to fly from it, it will be hard for you, and the tribulation from which you fly will follow you everywhere.

12. If you set yourself to what you ought, that is to suffer and die to thyself, it will quickly be better for you and you shall find peace.

Although you should have been transported up to the third heaven with St. Paul, you are not thereby assured that you won’t suffer adversity. “I” said Jesus, “will show him how great things he must suffer for my name.”

To suffer therefore, is what waits for you, if you will love Jesus and constantly serve Him.

13. Would to God you were worthy to suffer something for the name of Jesus! how great a glory would be laid up for you, how great joy would it be to all saints of God and how great edification to your neighbor.

All recommend patience, but alas! how few there are that desire to suffer. With good reason ought you willingly to suffer a little for Christ, since many suffer greater things for the world.

14. Know for certain that you must lead a dying life and the more a man dies to himself the more he begins to live to God. No man is fit to comprehend heavenly things who has not resigned himself to suffer adversities for Christ.

Nothing is more acceptable to God, nothing more wholesome for you in this world than to suffer willingly for Christ. And if you were to choose, you ought to wish rather to suffer adversities for Christ than to be delighted with many comforts, because you would then be more to Christ and more conformable to all the saints.

For our merit and the advancement of our state consist, not in having many sweetnesses and consolations, but rather in bearing great afflictions and tribulations.

15. If, indeed, there had been anything better and more beneficial to man’s salvation than suffering, Christ certainly would have showed it by word and example.

For He manfully exhorts both His disciples that followed Him and all that desire to follow Him to bear the cross, saying: “If any one will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

So that when we have read and searched all, let this be the final conclusion, that “Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.”

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