We must imitate Jesus. We are to live as he lived, to think as he thought, to conform ourselves to his image, which is the seal of our sanctification.
What a difference in behavior! Nothing believes itself to be something; the All-Powerful makes himself nothing. I make myself nothing with you, Lord. I put to death my pride and my vanity, which have controlled me all my life as I immerse myself in you. Help me and keep me afloat as I die to the world; I trust in you. “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” that I see only you, and so that I can see myself before you. It will be then that I shall know what I am and what you are.
Jesus Christ was born in a stable. He had to flee into Egypt. He passes thirty years of his life in the shop of a craftsman. He suffers hunger, thirst, weariness. He is poor, scorned and abject. He teaches the doctrine of heaven, and no one listens to him. All the great and the wise pursue him, take him, and make him suffer frightful torments. They treat him like a slave, make him die between two thieves after having preferred a murderer to him. That was the life that Jesus Christ chose, and we, we have a horror of every sort of personal humiliation! The slightest contempt towards us is unbearable to us.
Let us compare our life to that of Jesus Christ. Let us remember that he is the master, and that we are the slaves; that he is all-powerful, and that we are only weakness. He lowers himself, and we raise ourselves. Let us accustom ourselves to think so often of our wretchedness, that we may have only contempt for ourselves. Can we, with justice, feel contempt for others and dwell on their faults when we are full of them ourselves? Let us commence to walk on the road, which Jesus Christ has marked for us since it is the only one that can lead us to him.
And how can we find Jesus Christ, if we do not seek him in the conditions of his mortal life, that is to say, in solitude, in silence, in poverty and suffering, in persecutions and insults, in the cross and annihilations? The saints find him in heaven, in the splendor of glory and ineffable joy, but it is after having lived with him on earth in shame, suffering, and humiliation. To be Christians is to be imitators of Jesus Christ. In what can we imitate him except in his humiliations? Nothing else can draw us to him considering his power; we ought to adore him; because he is just, we ought to fear him; as merciful, we ought to love him with all our strength; as humble, submissive, lowly and faithful unto death, we ought to imitate him.
Let us not pretend to be able to reach this state through our own strength. Everything in us resists it. But let us console ourselves in the presence of God. Jesus Christ has wanted to feel all our weaknesses. He is a compassionate, high priest who was tempted as we are. Let us then find all our strength in him who became voluntarily weak to strengthen us. Let us enrich ourselves by his poverty, and let us say with confidence, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”
I want to follow, O Jesus, the road which thou has taken! Lord, I want to imitate thee, and I only can do so by your grace. O Savior, lowly and humble, give me the knowledge of true Christians and a feeling of contempt for myself. And may I learn the lesson which is incomprehensible to the human spirit, which is to die to self by mortification and true humility.
Let us put our hand to the work, and let us change this so hard and so rebellious heart into the heart of Jesus Christ. Let us approach the sacred heart of Jesus. May he inspire our own. May he destroy all our repulsions. O good Jesus, who has suffered so many shames and humiliations for the love of me, quicken respect and love of you deep within my heart, and make me desire to do so always!
This article was a letter originally written by Francois Fenelon some 300 years ago as part of his collection of letters later published under the name of Christian Perfection and was edited by Mark Heaney. A copy of Christian Perfection that was translated from the French by Mildred Whitney Stillman can be read here and was the translation that I worked from. Christian Perfection was, to me, one of the most practical Christian writings I have ever read, and so I thought that I might edit the phrasing to make it easier for people to understand.