Imitation is about attitudes and values
Stretch out your hands to the needy and put on the mind and heart of Christ
February 16, 2003 -- 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Bishop Robert Morneau
Questions for reflection:
1. How do you imitate Christ?
2. What devotions keep you connected to the Lord?
3. What is the essence of imitation?
"Imitate me as I imitate Christ." These are St. Paul's words to
the people of Corinth and to us as we struggle to live out our
baptismal calling. We do well to ponder what that imitation of
Christ is like.
A resource in this endeavor is a classic work The Imitation
of Christ, written by Thomas Kempis (1380-1471). This
Augustinian priest attempted to assist fellow pilgrims in living a
dynamic spiritual life. This work has been read by millions of
people and has helped many to become better disciples of the
According to Robert Ellsberg: "For Thomas the imitation of
Christ does not mean emulating his external deeds but adopting the
inner pattern of piety: humility, detachment from the world, prayer
and obedience to the will of God. Though it is an exacting manual
of spiritual perfection, The Imitation suggests that the
path to perfection is available to everyone, requiring no
particular setting, occupation, or station in life" (cf. All
Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets and Witnesses For
Our Time -- Crossroad, 1997, p. 193).
How do we imitate the Jesus we hear about in today's Gospel? Not
many of us will go around curing leprosy. But all of us can be
moved with pity as Jesus was when he witnessed how a disease
isolated people from the community. All of us can "imitate" Christ
by stretching out our hands to the needy: prisoners, people in
nursing homes, victims of AIDS, the homeless, the lonely. Imitating
Jesus is not performing miracles nor even going off to the mission
in Africa or Indonesia. Rather, it is bringing to our occupation
and situation minds and hearts conformed to that of Jesus. Thomas
Kempis got it right. Imitation is not primarily about external
deeds as it is about inner attitudes and values.
St. Paul adds another dimension to imitating the Lord, namely,
the question of motive. Why do we follow in the Gospel way of
compassion, love, and forgiveness? Paul is clear and absolute: for
the glory of God. Our lives are not to give offense to others but
rather to lead people to the light and love of God which is glory,
life resplendent. So often we eat and drink and work without
clarity as to the why. Our lives can lack a reference point. When
this is the case, our imitation loses its dynamic force and will
probably terminate. When Jesus healed the leper, God's glory was
made manifest and the story had to be told.
Realism hits us in the first reading from the book of Leviticus.
We are unclean, without and within. All of us stand in need of
redemption; all of us must stay continually in the process of
conversion. Part of the wisdom of the Eucharistic liturgy is the
fact that we recall that our imitation of Christ is deeply flawed.
We have sins and weaknesses that need healing. We come before the
Lord, as the leper did, and say: "If you will to do so, you can
cure me." Not to know we need healing is one of the great illnesses
of our day.
Some aspects of The Imitation of Christ are dated
(vocabulary, style, some advice) but as a whole it still rings
true. Our challenge is to put on the mind and heart of Christ so
that, sharing in his life and death, we might all find glory in his
(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Green