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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinFebruary 14, 2003 Issue 

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

Bishop Robert Morneau
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 Lord.

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 resurrection.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay.)

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