Book 3, Chapter 40: That a Disciple’s Goodness Emanates from God, not of Himself.
Chapter Focus: Thomas breaks out in praise over the goodness of God. In opening with this quote from Psalm 8, Thomas is amazed that God even bothers with us. Why does God show us any favor at all, given all our weaknesses and failings? In stating the human condition, he points out that even when he does good things, the good part is coming from God’s grace, and not Thomas’ own merit. And we then try to take credit for the goodness that really comes from God.
While God is constant and strong, man is weak and reckless and easily falls short of the standard of holiness. We only reach our goals with God’s help. Thomas comes to the realization that all his efforts at goodness are corrupted by vanity. The only true glory comes from praising God and glorying in His creation.
When I read a chapter like this, I wonder what transpired in Thomas’ life to cause him to reflect so deeply on his own person. Did one of the other Brothers call him out on some shortcoming or did he catch himself? In the Chronicles of Mt. St. Agnes, Thomas rarely mentions himself. Mainly that book tells the comings and goings of the Monastery and who died and other significant local events. So there are no clues: there are no personal “Dear Diary” entries we can look to, we just have to imagine that something came to pass that caused Thomas to write this passage. He fell short somehow, and in that failure, found an opportunity to hold himself accountable and move forward in humility toward following God’s will by imitating Christ.
Chapter 40, In Short.
1. What have we done that You should bestow Your favor upon us?
2. You, O Lord, are always the same and endure forever.
3. If I knew how to reject all human consolations, then could I trust in Your grace.
4. Thanks be to You, from whom all things come, whenever it goes well with me!
5. True glory lies in glorying in You and not in myself.
6. I will ask for honor which comes from God only.
Question: Compared to God’s glory, can I really claim any glory for anything I’ve done or be held in honor by others?
How can I turn vain glory seeking into right honor and praise to God?
The Text of Chapter 40: That a Disciple’s Goodness Emanates from God, not of Himself.
“Lord, what is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You care for him? (Ps 8:5)” What have we done that You should bestow Your favor upon us?
Lord, what cause do I have to complain if You forsake me? Or what can I justly allege, if You refuse to hear my petition? Of a truth, this I may truly think and say, Lord, I am nothing, I have nothing that is good of myself, but I fall short in all things, and ever tend to nothing. And unless I am helped by You and inwardly supported, I become altogether lukewarm and reckless.
2. But You, O Lord, are always the same, and You endure forever. You are always good, righteous, and holy; doing all things well, righteously, and holily, and disposing all in Your wisdom (Wis 12:15).
But I who am more ready to go forward than backward, never continue in one place, because seven different changes may come over me (Dn 4:13). Yet my situation quickly becomes better when it pleases You, and You put forth Your hand to help me because You alone can aid me without anyone’s help and can strengthen me in a way that I stop looking from one place to the next. Instead, my heart shall be turned to You and rest in You alone.
3. So, if I knew how to reject all human comfort, whether for the sake of gaining devotion or because of the necessity by which I was compelled to seek You, seeing there is no one who can comfort me, then I could trust in Your grace worthily, and rejoice in the gift of new consolation.
4. Thanks be to You, from whom all comes, whenever it goes well with me! But I am full of vanity and nothing in Your sight, an inconstant and weak person. What really do I have in which to glory, or why do I long to be held in honor? Is it not for nothing? This also is utterly vain. Truly vainglory is an evil plague, the greatest of vanities, because it draws us away from the true glory, and robs us of heavenly grace. For while we become pleased with ourselves, we displease You. While we chase after the praises of others, we are deprived of the true virtues.
5. But true glory and holy rejoicing lie with glorying in You and not in myself; in rejoicing in Your Name, not in my own virtue; in not taking delight in any creature, except only for Your sake.
Let Your Name, not mine be praised; let Your work, not mine be magnified; let Your holy Name be blessed, but to me let nothing be given of the praises of the world. You are my glory, You are the joy of my heart. In You, I will make my boast and be glad all the day long, but for myself let me not glory save only in my weaknesses (2 Cor 12:5).
6. Let others seek the praise which comes from others; but I will seek praise for that which only comes from God (Jn 5:44). Truly all human glory, all temporal honor, all worldly exultation, compared to Your eternal glory, is but vanity and folly. O God my Truth and my Mercy, Blessed Trinity, to You alone be all praise, honor, power, and glory forever and ever. Amen.