I tend to be an avid reader. Now one would think that being an avid reader would make me a better writer, but alas, no. Anyway, I have started rereading a book I first read when I began my journey back to the faith, And I thought I would periodically reflect on various chapters as I go along.
The book is “The Imitation of Christ” written by Thomas A Kempis. Today’s reflection is on Book 1, Chapter 4, “Prudence in Action”.
Prudence is defined as cautiousness. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is:
Prudence is the virtue that disposes of practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it – CCC 1806
We need to use prudence when making any decisions in our lives. We need to make sure we are doing what is right according to God, not whatever the current culture is telling us is right. There is no grey when it comes to God’s will, there is only black and white, right or wrong. There are no “if, but, then” statements. For those of you who are wondering, that phrase is a take off from computer programming languages where these types of statements are used to make logical decisions. “If A equals B then do C, but if A does not equal B and you think they should be equal then do C anyway”. According to natural law, there is no choice, if A doesn’t equal B, then it doesn’t matter, you must do C.
Kempis is telling us to use prudence and caution whenever we make a decision to make sure it is in accord with God’s will. We need to be patient to avoid speaking rashly about others or making stupid decisions we are going to regret later. When we don’t use prudence we will believe just about anything, going along with things we probably shouldn’t. I’m reminded of how when I was younger we would want to do something because everyone else was doing it and my mother would say “If everyone else jumps off a bridge are you going to?” The right answer would be “Only if the bridge was falling down.” Prudence is checking to make sure everyone is jumping because the bridge is actually falling and not because one person decides to do it. This is the same with God’s will. Are we doing something because it is God’s will or because everyone else is doing it?
Kempis is also telling us that we need not be too stubborn when it comes to sticking with our opinions. We might find there is a better way to do something, even though we have done it the same way forever. We need to be open to change, but only when the change is right in God’s eyes. Don’t be afraid to ask other people for their opinions, especially if they are wiser than you are. Unless they tell you to jump off a bridge when it isn’t falling.
DO NOT yield to every impulse and suggestion but consider things carefully and patiently in the light of God’s will. For very often, sad to say, we are so weak that we believe and speak evil of others rather than good. Perfect men, however, do not readily believe every talebearer, because they know that human frailty is prone to evil and is likely to appear in speech.
Not to act rashly or to cling obstinately to one’s opinion, not to believe everything people say or to spread abroad the gossip one has heard, is great wisdom.
Take counsel with a wise and conscientious man. Seek the advice of your betters in preference to following your own inclinations.
A good life makes a man wise according to God and gives him experience in many things, for the more humble he is and the more subject to God, the wiser and the more at peace he will be in all things
Thomas à Kempis. (1996). The Imitation of Christ (p. 9). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.