«Vita Christi» (the life of Christ)

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On 10 (or 13) April 1377 (or 1378) the Carthusian monk Ludolph of Saxony died. Now, in a week in which we especially meditate on the life of Christ, we would like to share with you an extract from his book «Vita Christi», in which Ludolph tells us about the importance of meditating on the life of Our Lord.

For other foundation no man can lay, the Apostle says, but that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. Anyone who wishes to lay down the burden of sins and  attain  peace  of  heart  should  heed  God’s  gracious  invitation  addressed  to sinners: Come to me all that labour with the toil of vices and are burdened, with the baggage of your sins, and I will refresh you by healing and reviving you; and you shall find rest to your souls here and hereafter. Listen, patient, to your loving and devoted physician; come to him with heartfelt contrition, sincere confession, and the firm intention to avoid evil and do good. The sinner who already faithfully believes in Christ and has been reconciled to him through penance should strive to stay close to this physician by devoutly meditating on his most holy life as much as possible.

But take care to do this with deliberation, and not hurry through the reading  of  Christ’s  life;  rather,  take  a  small  selection  in  turn  each  day.  With such devout reflections you can celebrate a daily Sabbath for Christ; your thoughts, feelings, prayers, praises, and all of your daily work will lead to this, and you will find delight in it. Here you will find a respite from the din of distractions and worldly preoccupations, and you will enjoy sweet repose. Wherever you may be, return often here; this is a sure and holy refuge  to protect you from the manifold varieties of human weakness that constantly assail God’s servants. Frequently  consider  the  major  events  in  Christ’s  life:  his  incarnation, birth, circumcision, epiphany, presentation in the temple, passion, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit, and his second coming as Judge. Do this with an eye to definite spiritual recollection, self-discipline, and consolation. Meditate on the life of Christ with a thirst to put into practice what you read there.

There  are  many  reasons  that  this  way  of   living  should  be  a  sinner’s greatest aspiration. First, for the forgiveness of sins: when we judge ourselves, accuse ourselves in confession, and freely undertake penance, we are already delivered in no small measure from the squalor of sin; we walk attentively with God and are meditating in the aforesaid manner. For our God is a consuming fire, purifying those who cling to him of their sins. Second, for enlightenment: the one who comes to our aid is a light shining in the darkness. Those who are illumined by this light learn to set proper priorities, giving themselves first to Christ and then to godly concerns, their own, their neighbour’s, and those of  the world. Third, for the gift of tears: these are so necessary for a sinner in this miserable valley. Christ, who is the fountain of gardens and the well of living waters, customarily gives these tears to one who stays close to him.

Fourth, for renewal after the sinful lapses of daily  life: the  Lord  always lifts up those who cling to him, as he says: Make a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: whosoever being struck shall look on it, shall live. Fifth, because of the sweet and longed-for taste, this practice holds for those who possess it, as the Psalmist says: O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet. Sixth,  for  the  knowledge  of  the  Father’s  majesty,  which  can  be  had  only through Christ, as he himself teaches: Neither does any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him. Seventh,  for  the  sure  deliverance  from  this  world’s  dangers  that  it  offers: faithful sinners who daily welcome Christ into their hearts and make a bower for him from these sweet meditations will in turn be sought out and welcomed by Christ after death. What they longed for and grew accustomed to here below they will enjoy forever: life with Christ.

This is a blessed, well-irrigated way of life; it purifies and renews sinners who cling to it, making them fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. To live like this is sweet and lovely: for conversation has no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness. This food is so agreeable and delicious that, once a loving heart has tasted it, all other practices will seem bland. It nourishes and refreshes, for, as Ambrose observes, those who receive Christ into their inner dwelling feed on the greatest delights and abundant pleasures. It is the consolation of the solitary, for whom it is the best of  companions, giving joy, comfort, and solace; for the sinner it is a tower of strength against the face of the enemy. This way of life offers an easy and thorough way to contemplate the Creator (a duty from which no one may excuse  oneself)  because  there  is  no  faster  way  to  reach  the  heights  of  God’s majesty than by meditating on the life of our Redeemer.

Everyone can follow this practice, the young beginner as well as those advanced in the spiritual life, and all find here a pleasant home in which to nest like a dove, and a hiding place for the offspring of their chaste love. This meditation makes the saints loving, solicitous, and disposed kindly to those who invoke them because of the joy we share with them. For example, could the Blessed Virgin, the mother of mercy, tenderness, and grace, possibly despise you or turn her eyes from you, sinner though you are, when she sees you take her Son (whom she loves above all) into your arms and hold him close to your breast, and this not just once a day, but frequently? Could she possibly desert you when she sees you holding her Son each and every day, attending to every detail of his life, and offering him every service of devotion and affection? Certainly not. So it is with the other saints: they look gladly on those with whom God is pleased to dwell; this way of life turns their clients into their companions, because it is their way of life, too.

Clearly this is the life of  Christ’s mother, who served him and cared for him for so many years. This is the life of the apostles, his intimate companions, who persevered faithfully with him. This is the life of the heavenly citizens who enjoy Christ, marvel at his wondrous works, and reverently attend him for all eternity. Here we find what is truly the best part: to sit at the feet of Christ and listen to his words. Rightly, it is not taken away from one who by  grace possesses it, for this is the reward promised to the good and faithful servant : a life begun here on earth but fulfilled in eternity. No tongue can sufficiently praise this way of life, which is truly good, holy, and more eminent than any other: it marks the beginning of that profound contemplation we long for in the angelic, eternal life of  our true homeland. What can compare with abiding continually with Christ, in whom the angels desire to look? If you wish to reign with Christ forever, begin to reign with him now; do not abandon him, for to serve him is to reign.

According to Augustine, among the entire collection of divine records contained in Sacred Scripture, pride of place should be given to the gospels. For this reason, see to it that you always hold them in  your  hands and carry  them in your heart; they will best illuminate for you the life and deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ, and all that pertains to your salvation. In the gospels themselves you will learn the life story of the  Word incarnate, what he commands and what he promises, in which you have the way, the truth, and the life. Study carefully Christ’s example: from his life, you will see that you can live rightly; from his commandments, you will know how to live rightly; from his promises, you will desire to live rightly. With these three weapons you can repel our three enemies (impotence, ignorance, negligence). The one who chooses to remain ignorant will be ignored, the negligent person will be neglected, the one who feigns lack of ability will be cast out. So rouse yourself, O soul devoted to Christ! Be alert, Christian! Examine diligently, ponder attentively, tease out scrupulously every detail in the life of Jesus Christ, and follow in your Lord’s footsteps. For your sake he came down to earth from his heavenly throne; for your own sake, flee earthly things and strive for those of Heaven. If you find that the world is sweet, know that Christ is sweeter; if you find that the world is harsh, know that he endured all its pains for you.

Source: Lectionary for Maitins – Year A

21 September – Readings 1-8

Saint Hugh’s Charterhouse (2021)

Images used in this article are different

illustrations to the book «Vita Christi»