Advent with A Kempis VII

Chapter 7: Avoiding Vain Hope and Self-Conceit  (St. Nicholas Day)

“Peace dwells in a humble heart, while in the heart of the proud man there is envy and resentment.”

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, “first saw the Imitation of Christ at Manresa, and never afterwards did he wish to read another book of devotion. He recommended it to all those with whom he dealt, and read a chapter or two every day.”[1]

The great sin that haunted Ignatius throughout his life, according to his autobiography, was vainglory. My copy of Imitation contains a brief personal note on the first page from a friend of mine at Fuller Seminary who gave me the book. It says, “Daniel—Good luck w/ your pride—Matt 11/15/05.” I think that was in reference to me saying that I don’t like The Imitation of Christ because it encourages low self-esteem and even self-loathing.

For instance, in this chapter Kempis writes, “Do not rely on yourself,” “Do not take pride in your skills and talents,” “Do not esteem yourself,” “Take no pride in your good accomplishments,” “It will do you no harm if you account yourself as worst of all.” And perhaps Iggy’s favorite: “Do not boast your good looks nor your body’s strength, which a slight illness can mar and disfigure.” (At one time a handsome and noble soldier, Iggy’s body was marred after a cannonball pummeled him in the legs).

I admit that I still have trouble with these teachings and these reflections are my attempts to soften and appropriate them into my life and context. I don’t want to dismiss and reject this spiritual classic as a manual on self-hate. I think there are still jewels for me in this text, especially during this season of Advent, when I am invited to humbly wait upon God. I am not going to dislike myself or even refuse to be proud of myself. Instead, I will consciously see my life, my friends, my family, my skills and talents, and my very self as gifts from a loving God that I am always in the process of discovering and appreciating. These are not things that I cling to and possess and hoard for my (false) self. These are gifts that I enjoy and relish, like the bags of gold that the Bishop of Myra gave to the three poor women about to be sold into slavery.

These are gifts to me just as Diane Bruce and Mary Glasspool are gifts to the LA Bishopric and to the Episcopal Church. I cannot cling to these gifts or worship them as gods. I hold them lightly as they lead me to the loving Giver of all good things. I treat them as love letters that I relish but do not hold over and above the Author. My own self and my own existence are love letters from God. And this love gives me a humble heart, where, Kempis says, peace dwells.


[1] George E. Ganss, S.J. Ignatius of Loyola Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, (Mahwah, 1991), 28.

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