Mt 4:1-11 Douay translation.
“1 Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry. 3 And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
4 Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. 5 Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple, 6 And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.
7 Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8 Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, 9 And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.
10 Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. 11 Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.”
“And behold angels came and ministered to him,” (Mt 4:11) Today’s gospel tells us of the holy fast of Jesus. The four points are as follows:
First, a convenient location,
Second, a sufficient time during which he fasted,
Third, an appropriate manner how he fasted,
Fourth, the fruit which resulted from the fast.
And about this fourth the theme speaks, “…angels came.” etc., the fruits of what follows from the fast, because the angels came, etc.
I say that today’s gospel tells us about the holy fast; and first, the convenient place where he fasted. Notice that when Christ wished to fast for forty days, he chose not to fast in the city of Bethlehem, where he was born, nor in the temple where he was presented, nor in Nazareth where he was nourished, nor among men, but in the desert which is the habitat of beasts. This he says at the beginning of the gospel, “Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert,” (Mt 4:2) – supply, wishing to fast – and this location was very appropriate. The reason is because of the fittingness which the desert offers for the purpose of the fast. A fast is ordered to a three-fold end; namely restraining, liberating and for merit.
First for restraining sins and vices, which for the most part happen from the inclinations of the flesh. Because of this fasts are ordered for refraining. For just as in the case of a stupid man who is armed, the arms with which he could do much harm are taken away, so likewise the body of man, stupid, armed with food and drink and other delights, which God gave us for the necessity of nature, when indiscreetly taken often kill the soul. So they should be prudently taken away and removed from him.
Second, a fast is ordered for freeing the soul, which, as long as it is united to the body, is much impeded by the body in spiritual goods. And so it is said, “For the corruptible body is a load upon the soul,” (Wis 9:15). So that the soul might be free for working spiritually, the flesh is restrained through fastings, and so the soul is raised freely to God. It’s like a scale. When one side is weighed down, the other is raised, and vice versa.
Third, [a fast is ordered] for meriting and acquiring spiritual treasure, because just as through the whole year a man works for the needs of the body, so, by fasting, at least in this holy season, you labor for the soul. Thus the Apostle, “…every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor,” (1 Cor 3:8). For all of these reasons, see the authority of St. Gregory [the Great], who says, “You who restrain your vices by a bodily fast,” –note the first, to restrain – “you raise your mind,” – see the second, namely, to free the soul – “you will receive virtue and rewards,” – see the third, to merit. Thus the triple ends of fasting very much fit a desert place, where vices are restrained, because you do not have the occasion of sinning, nor by seeing with your eyes, etc. and so for the other senses. It is clear, therefore, that the desert is the convenient place for a fast.
Thus about that text, “Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert,” St. Gregory say in his homily today, “some are accustomed to doubt by which spirit Jesus is led into the desert? Truly and without any question it is appropriately understood that he is believed to be led into the desert by the Holy Spirit.” But some might say these reasons are not appropriate for Christ, who in his body never had any bad inclinations. Also neither is his soul impeded by the flesh, and that he had merited his complete blessings. Also, because already he merits, both as God and as man.
I respond that regarding the person of Christ there is a good reason. For he did this so that he might give us an example, that in the time of the fast we might go to the desert leaving our cities, villages and communities. Understand it this way, that in the holy time we set aside our daily business, problems and conflicts etc. The model here is given for all. First to the religious and clerics. In this holy time [of Lent] it is enough that they are occupied about the hours and the office. Workers however in this holy time ought to hear Mass and a sermon, if there is preaching in some place, the first thing in the morning, and afterwards go about their business, so that they might provide for their children and household. The wealthy ought to get up in the morning for worship. They should hear a high Mass and a sermon, and afterwards pray the psalms after Mass, praying up to lunchtime. Those rich people who don’t know the psalms, after Mass, should visit churches, monasteries and hospitals for prayer, where often there are many indulgences. After lunch then they can take a nap. Finally, they should go to Compline, [night prayer], and afterwards say Vespers [evensong] or the seven penitential psalms or the Our Father, etc. This is how someone goes out to the desert.
The great king David believed this, saying of himself, “Lo, I have gone far off flying away; and I abode in the wilderness. I waited for him who has saved me from pusillanimity of spirit, and a storm,” (Ps 54:8f). We don’t read that David, after he was crowned king, was in the desert, but he remained alone in his palace room, far from his business, and so he achieves his purpose, “I waited for him who has saved me.” And the fruit of his merits, “from pusillanimity of spirit,” –see the freedom of the soul – “and a storm,” – supply, of the evil inclinations of the spirit. It is clear then, [the desert is] a convenient place for a fast.
I say secondly, etc. that the duration of forty days was sufficient. For the text says that he fasted forty days and forty nights. And why does it say forty nights? I respond that this is said to differentiate the fast of the Jews who of old fasted through the day, and at night would eat their fill, just as the Muslims do. Do not believe that the fast of Christ in that forty days and forty nights was like that, because he consumed nothing.
Nevertheless, the duration of forty days and forty nights was sufficient. Reason: Because already you know that all God’s commandments are ten in number, in which all others are fundamentally included. Just as God gave ten fingers to the body for doing all things, so he gave ten commandments, like ten fingers, for working meritoriously. These commandments we break in four ways, namely by thought, word, deed and omission.
– By thought we break two precepts especially [9 & 10], that: You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife, because it does not suffice to keep the body clean from this deed, but also the soul from the thought. Secondly that: You shall not desire your neighbor’s house nor anything which is his. From desires arise divisions and war, and so it is said, “For the desire of money is the root of all evils,” (1 Tim. 6:10).
– By speech we break two other commandments, namely [2 & 8], that: You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, because one should never swear unless out of necessity or usefulness. And the other: Thou shalt not bear false witness, for whatever reason, neither in court or outside.
– By deed we break four, namely [1, 5, 6 & 7]: Thou shall not worship other gods. Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not commit adultery. Thou shall not steal.
– By omission we break two, namely [3 &4]: Not keeping the holy days, and not honoring our parents.
Therefore by these four ways we break the ten commandments, and four times ten equals forty. For this reason we undertake forty days of penance, because we sin 4 x 10 [ways] because of the flesh. And so Gregory: “Through mortal wills of the flesh we break the Lord’s commandments, which were received in the Decalogue, because therefore through the desires of the flesh we show contempt for the commandments of the Decalogue, it is fitting that we afflict the same flesh forty times.” Behold, therefore, it is a sufficient time that Christ fasted, giving us an example.
Now there is here a three-part question about Christ, since Christ fasted in the desert for forty days:
– And the first question is, where did he sleep?
– Second, what did he do?
– Third, what company did he keep?
Now listen devoutly, for the evangelists have not said expressly where he was sleeping, but often through symbols the truth can be elicited, just as from a husk the grain can be extracted. Christ’s sleeping in the desert was prefigured in the patriarch Jacob. When he was a pilgrim and traveler from Canaan to Mesopotamia, he passed through parts of this desert. At night when he wished to sleep he put a stone under his head and in the night he saw the heaven opened and a ladder etc. See the story found in Genesis 28. All the [church] teachers say that Jacob signifies Christ. The ladder, penance. You have forty rungs for fasting. Some [people] ascend continuing their fasting, some descend breaking their fast. And Jacob, excited, was afraid, and he trembled at this vision. To him it was divinely revealed that Christ, the Savior of the world, would fast there and sleep at that place. Then Jacob said, “Indeed the Lord is in this place,” (Gen 28:16). The first question is clear.
But contemplate this a while. Christ began his fast on the day after the Epiphany [his Baptism], when it was the coldest, and he was sleeping on the ground then, giving us an example, that in this holy season we should set aside our linens, mattress and [such] luxuries. And so David said, “Blessed is he who understands concerning the needy and the poor: the Lord will deliver him in the evil day…The Lord help him on his bed of sorrow: thou hast turned all his couch in his sickness,” (Ps. 40:2,4).
The second question: What was the man Christ doing? Both because he was not working with his hands, and since he stayed forty days, was he not idle? The text doesn’t clearly tell what he was doing, but Luke elsewhere says what Christ was doing in the desert: “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God,” (Lk. 6:12). Therefore he would spend his nights in dreaming and in prayer. But during the day what was he doing? I reply, that in three activities, namely in reading, in contemplating and in praying.
— Of the first he was reading in the book which he always had with him, the greater part of the whole bible, namely the book of life, i.e. of the knowledge of God in which is written all the things that ever were, are, or can be. And every day Jesus Christ was reading this whole book, reading the first chapter, namely of the glory of Paradise. And second, of the arrangement of the angels. Third, of the penalties of the damned. Fourth, of the sufferings of those in purgatory, and so on. Also about the natures of the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the animals of the earth. And all these he was seeing not only in general but even in particular, in their individuality, not only as God but also as man.
— Second, he spent time in contemplating all these things.
— As for the third, after the previous reading and contemplation, he was praying saying the prayer which later he would teach us, the Our Father. For “Jesus began to do and to teach,” (Acts 1:1). And in our person he himself would say “Our Father.” And, “forgive us, etc.,” because just as the mouth speaks for the feet and the other members, so Christ as the head, speaks in the person of his members. In these [activities] therefore we should be about in this lenten time after the example of Christ. So he was saying, “Labor not for the meat which perishes,” namely, the business of this world, “but for that which endures unto life everlasting,” (Jn 6:27), namely, meritorious works.
The third question: Whose company did he keep? I say, that of wild animals, and beasts and robbers. Of beasts, it is said in Mark 1, that in that jungle [frondoso] desert there were lions, bears, wolves and many other animals. The text says: “And he was in the desert forty days and forty nights, and was tempted by Satan; and he was with beasts, and the angels ministered to him,” (Mk 1:13). Practically, you can imagine that the aforesaid animals hid during the day in caves, and at night they went out to eat. And when they saw Christ we are able to say that, just as the ox and the ass adored Christ, so also [these] etc. This was the company Christ kept at night. During the day he had the company of thieves and other evildoers. For that desert is between Jerusalem and Jericho, of which Luke 10 says, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers,” (Lk 10:30). Here the place is called “adumim” in Hebrew, and is translated “redland” or “red rise.” This place, where the man fell among robbers, is cruel and bloody. Imagine how it was when the robbers spied him from afar, they would approach to see if by chance he might have some money. But Jesus Christ changed their hearts and wills, and they showed Christ a great reverence. So we, in a moral sense, dwell with the beasts, the wild beasts of sin, thinking how we have lived like beasts, by sinning etc. Among robbers, thinking how by sinning, by appropriating honor and grace for ourselves, we have robbed God of [his due] honor and reverence and fear. On this account David said: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to thy name give glory,” (Ps 113:9).
Third, the way in which Christ fasted, who overcame the temptation of the devil, is seen to be fitting The teachers and especially the Master of History says that when in the baptism of Christ the voice of the Father sounded saying, This is my beloved Son, ” You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased,” (Lk 3:22), he says that the devil heard this voice. He already knew that the time for the Messiah was completed, and so when he saw the miracles of Christ he concluded that he was the Son of God. But when he saw him hungry, he suspected the opposite. For this reason he wished to tempt him.
Taking a human form and in the robe of a holy man, he saluted him. To whom Christ, responding, said, “You have come. You do not believe.” Briefly he spoke to Christ, “If you be the Son of God…,” (Lk 4:3). But the evangelist leaves it to us that we might touch on the practical point. So note, when the devil came to Christ himself saluting him he said: “Some are thinking that you are the Son of God. For the Son of God of old changed the staff of Moses into a snake, the water of Egypt into blood, (Ex 7), the wife of Lot into a pillar of salt. (Gen 19). So ‘If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread,'” (Mt 4:3) And replying, Jesus said: “It is written, Not in bread alone does man live, but in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (Mt 4:4; Deut 8:3). See how appropriate this is for us, because when we fast now, the devil tempts us saying, “command that these stones be made bread,” (v.3) etc. We impatiently complain using harsh and cruel words, if our dinner is not ready or something else etc.
Second temptation. The devil, defeated by Christ in the first temptation from scripture, “Not in bread alone, etc.” taking the next move from the fact that scripture, the word of God, is taught in the temple, proceeds to the second temptation, saying, “Are you willing that we go to the city to the temple?” Christ, however, as a good soldier, wishing to present himself to his enemy in every situation, followed him to the temple where there was a great crowd of people gathered. Then the devil said to Christ, “Are you willing that we ascend to the pinnacle? because there we can pray more privately.” And when they were on the very top, the devil said to Christ, “Look at the crowd of people here below! There are many who do not believe you to be the Son of God, so, “throw yourself down,”(v. 6) because it is written of you, “For he has given his angels charge over you; to keep you in all your ways,” (Ps 90:11). Christ said to him, “It is written again: You shall not tempt the Lord your God,” (v.7). Here Christ gives an example to spiritual and devout people. When the devil tempts them to vainglory, they should stand firm, lest they fall.
The devil, seeing that Christ excused himself, so he would not incur vainglory, wished to tempt him again, and said to Christ, “Let us go to the desert, to a mountain high enough where we will be alone and can pray.” And when they were on the mountain the devil showed Christ every corner of the earth, saying that all was his and he was able to give it to whomever he wished – but he lied – and he said, “All this will I give you, if falling down you will adore me,” (v. 9). Christ, who in the other temptations patiently excused himself, in this temptation became indignant and shouted out saying, “Be gone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord your God shall you adore, and him only shall you serve,”(v. 10; Deut 6:13). But why?
Chrysostom says that some temptations touched on humility, but this touched on adoring the divinity, and on the crown of God, etc. St. Jerome says that Christ here gives us an example that we should tolerate injuries to our person, but those which touch upon God we should rebuke indignantly. Chrysostom: “In all personal injuries it is praiseworthy to be patient; injuries to God, however it is not wrong to rebuke to the utmost.” Note the story about St. Louis the king of France who used to brand the tongues of those who blasphemed God. A text from the prophets: “They who rule over them treat them unjustly, says the Lord, and my name is continually blasphemed all the day long,” (Isa 52:5).
Fourth. The fruit resulting from fasting, is shown in the theme, when it is said: “And behold angels came,” (Mt 4:11). Here is an image you can understand. It is like this, when two great lords, or princes, fight a duel in a closed arena, where the king keeps the field secure, and the friends and the army of both await the outcome on one side and the other. And when the battle is over, the defeated one flees with his entourage and servants, and the friends of the victor joyfully rush out to him with all the assistance necessary.
So it was with Christ and Lucifer, the greater princes of the world, as the Master of History says, but with a difference, for Christ is the prince of holiness and Lucifer of iniquity. Today they fought a duel, and God the Father kept the arena secure. Christ, as Chrysostom tells us, commanded the angels to stand back so they wouldn’t be seen by Lucifer. Lucifer did the same with his minions, and only the two entered the arena. The weapons of the devil were three: the lance, the sword and the dagger. With the lance of pride and vainglory, with the dagger of gluttony and with the sword of avarice he tempted Christ and approached him. Lucifer himself had slain may with these weapons, but they could not harm Christ in any way. So, vanquished, he fled. And so it is of Christ the theme speaks, “and behold angels came and ministered to him,” (v.11).
But how did they minister to him? Note that Christ was most in need of food, so they ministered to him in this way. Some devout contemplatives have said that the holy angels hastened to the Virgin Mary, who did not know anything of her son nor where he was. They told her of his battle and victory. When she heard from them the story of his victory, she sent him some food which she had prepared for him: cabbage, bread, spinach and perhaps some sardines, asking the angels if she could go to him, or if he could come to her, for lunch. Thus did the angels approach and minister to him.
So will it be for us. Now, in Lent, we are in a battle with the devil in a closed stadium. If we are victors over gluttony, vainglory and avarice, when the battle is over, on Easter day the angels will come, that is, the priests, and they will minister the food which the Virgin Mary prepared for us, at least materially – the Holy Spirit effectively – in the oven of her virginal womb, namely the body of Christ, in the consecrated host. Thus Christ says, “To him who overcomes, I will give the hidden manna, … which no man knows, but he who receives it,” (Rev 2:17).
Mt 6:1-6 Douay translation:
“Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven. 2 Therefore when thou dost an almsdeed, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honoured by men. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.
3 But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth. 4 That thy alms may be in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee. And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.
6 But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee..”
“Take heed that you do not your justice before men,” (Mt 6:1) The theme is the word of Christ, advising us, saying “Take heed…” The Lord Jesus Christ in this theme calls penitence “justice.” It is the custom in sacred scriptures, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, that true penitence is called “justice.” The reason: because through good penitence man does true justice for himself, and for all the good things, by which we commonly sin which are three, namely
The material body, [corpus materiale]
The rational soul, [anima rationalis]
And temporal goods [substantia temporalia]
For penitence, if it is true, ought to do justice, and punishment [punitionem] to these three. And first it does justice to the body by afflicting it through fasting, vigils, disciplines, and pilgrimages etc., because from its inclination we commit many sins. And so lest God do justice to the body in hell through those evil ministers, man ought to do justice here through penance. This privilege God gives uniquely to human nature, that each renders judgment in his own case. Even though man renders justice to himself, he [God] is content. Behold the privilege: “But if we would judge ourselves, we should not,” by the Lord, “be judged,” (1Cor 11:31), in our body. And so when the repentant soul, which has done justice, comes before Christ at judgment, and is accused by the demons, then the soul responds with the saying of David in Ps. 118: “I have done judgment and justice: give me not up to them who slander me,” (v. 121).
The same penitence for the soul. Many sins are within the soul through wicked thoughts, through hatred, rancor, malice, through ill will, or through errors and false opinions. But penitence does justice through devout prayers, as if by binding up the soul in the chain of devout prayers, which pass verbally through the neck, whose head is bound at the foot of the throne of Christ, as if saying, “Lord, because I am judge in my own case, I suspend my soul etc. lest you suspend it in the fork of hell.”
Third, penitence does justice regarding temporal goods, which have been for you an occasion of sin, in committing secret thefts, robbery, usury, overcharging, for extortion, withholding salaries of your workers, or the goods of the church, or of the dead, not paying tithes, first fruits etc. Penitence does justice by repaying.
It is clear therefore true penitence is nothing other than justice, and so it is said, “But if the wicked do penance for all his sins which he has committed, and keep all my commandments, and do judgment, and justice, living he shall live, and shall not die. I will not remember all his iniquities that he has done: in his justice which he has wrought, he shall live,” (Ez 18:21-22). Of this justice, true penitence, the theme speaks when it says, “Take heed that you do not your justice,” that is, penitence, “before men,” (Mt 6:1). The theme therefore is clear. Christ himself shows and declares in the holy gospel today how it is to be avoided, lest penitential justice happens before men.
There are three parts in which he shows how penitential justice should not be practiced before men.
First about the physical body,
Second about material affluence,
Third about the rational soul.
I say first etc., and this, when he says in the first part of the gospel, “Take heed that you do not your justice before men,” (Mt 6:1), which is about the body through fasting, vigils and abstinences, you do before men, for their recognition, not for God. Note here the difference between the recognition of men and of God. For the recognition of men extends itself only to the exterior works, and not to the interior. But the recognition of God extends itself to both works, because he sees all things clearly, “Nor do I judge according to the look of man: for man sees those things that appear, but the Lord beholds the heart,” (1Sam 16:7). Note, according to St. Thomas I, q. 57, a. 4, where he asks whether the angels know the thoughts of the heart. Response:
A secret thought can be known in two ways: first, in its effect. In this way it can be known not only by an angel, but also by man; and with so much the greater subtlety according as the effect is the more hidden. For thought is sometimes discovered not merely by an outward act, but also by change of countenance; and doctors can tell some passions of the soul by the mere pulse. Much more then can angels, or even demons, the more deeply they penetrate those occult bodily modifications…
In another way thoughts can be known as they are in the mind, and affections as they are in the will: and thus God alone can know the thoughts of hearts and affections of wills. The reason of this is, because the rational creature is subject to God only, and He alone can work in it Who is its principal object and last end… Consequently all that is in the will, and all things that depend only on the will, are known to God alone. Now it is evident that it depends entirely on the will for anyone actually to consider anything; because a man who has a habit of knowledge, or any intelligible species, uses them at will. Hence the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 2:11): “For what man knows the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him?” (I, q. 57, a. 4). Cf. Also II Sent., d. 8, ad 5m. Also in IV Sent d. 45, q. 3, ad 5m.
Now therefore returning to the point, let us see what it is to fast “before men,” and what it is to fast before God. To fast before men is to abstain from meat and especially to eat only once a day. Also to abstain from those delights of the body. This is fasting, which falls into the recognition of men. But to fast before God is when not only the body but also the heart abstains from stews [cibis potionatis], whether of the poisons of wicked thoughts, or depraved desires, of rancors, of ill will and from the desire for revenge. And because there are many who fast before men and not before God, he says, “Take heed that you do not your justice before men,” (Mt 6:1), supply “only” before men, but also before God, which is to say just as you fast by abstaining from bodily foods, fast also from the deadly and indigestible foods of the heart. etc. This fast Christ commands in the gospel of Matthew 5, in the first part of the gospel, saying, “You have heard that it has been said, You shalt love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who makes his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and rains upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them who love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans do this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens do this? Therefore be perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Mt 5:43 48).
Note when he says “be perfect,” by fasting, not only before men but also before God, “as also your heavenly Father is perfect,” who in this world has many enemies, all sinners and infidels, yet he loves them and gives them the blessings of the sun, the moon, the rain and provisions. And so like good children we are assimilated to our heavenly Father. Also because we are bound to do more for God than the infidels, because they alone love those loving them, this also dogs do. But when a creature loves with the love of God, they not only love those who love him, but also their enemies, this is meritorious. Also if you greet those who greet you, no thanks for that. But there are many who say they do not hate someone, but they do not speak to them, unless the other speaks to him first. I tell to you that he who speaks first and greets the other, he then gains merit, a crown. And so we not only fast before men but also before God, then we shall be perfect in our fasting.
Today’s epistle agrees with the gospel. It tells how the Jews, in the time of Isaiah the prophet, as is found in Isaiah 58, had great tribulations in Jerusalem of drought, famine, locusts and such. The rulers of the city ordered that all would fast for some days, and the more they fasted, the worse the troubles grew, on which account they came to the temple and praying said, “Why have we fasted, and you have not regarded. We have humbled our souls, and you have not taken notice?” – by accepting it. And God responded to them through Isaiah the prophet, “Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found,” (Isa 58:3) – note, he did not speak of God who commanded to forgive and love enemies –”and you exact of all your debtors. Behold you fast for debates and strife, and strike wickedly with the fist. Do not fast as you have done until this day, to make your cry to be heard on high. Is this such a fast as I have chosen: for a man to afflict his soul for a day? … will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?” (Isa 58:3-5). Note, enemies are called “debtors.” This is clear when it is said, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” our enemies (Mt 6:12). The debts are recalled through the desire of revenge.
But the fast, which he wants and chooses is that which follows, “Loose the bands of wickedness,” (Is 58:6), which happens in two ways, through parents, or through a valet or aide. And when it is said to them that they make peace, they say “I will not make it, unless with my friends, or my valet or aide makes it. It is good to require them that they make peace, otherwise you go with God.” And if you swear an oath to them via your valet or aide, it need not be kept, because it is contrary to charity. Therefore it is said in the plural, “Loose the bands…” Second, “undo the bundles that oppress,” (Is 58:6), namely hatred which someone holds in his heart, and this is the fast, which he chooses. Thus, the first part is clear. See why he says, “Take heed…”
PENITENCE OF MATERIAL AFFLUENCE
Second, I say that Christ warns lest penitential justice happen before men, from our material affluence [de abundantia temporali], which happens through restitution and almsgiving. And this Christ shows in the second part of the gospel, Matthew 6, when he says, “Therefore when you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. That your alms may be in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you,” (Mt 6:2-4). To explain this text note how, the Jewish rabbis and Pharisees of old did not care about heavenly glory but about temporal and terrestrial glory, and so everything whatsoever they did they did only before men. And when they were to give alms, first it was cried out through the city, and they followed the crier that they might hear the praises from the people saying, “O how pious is this man!” and they delighted in these praises. Behold vainglory! And so Christ said about them, “Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.” So that great reward is lost which God promised to persons of mercy saying, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy,” (Mt 5:7). When the soul which gives alms or other goods out of vainglory, comes to judgment before Christ, immediately it will be remitted to hell, saying that it has already received its reward here. If it is asked, therefore, what manner should we hold to in giving alms, this Christ shows saying, “But when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” (Mt 6:3).
Note here three moral points. First, temporal riches are called “hands.” Reason: because just as by hands we do all our deeds, — hence the Philosopher says that the had is the organ of organs — so with riches man does all his business. The right hand is good and just money earned, from his own labors or acquired possessions. The left hand is bad money, unjustly acquired or collected, from theft, usury, robbery, simony and the like. So about this Solomon wrote: “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall embrace me,” (Song 2:6). Restitution should be made from the left, and alms given from the right,. And so he says, “But when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Mt 6:3). And so I give you useful advice, that in your financial books, or accounts you should put yourself in the middle, and money from good work is put in one side and from the unjust deed on the other side, because when they are placed together restitution is forgotten; and through that middle stance it is remembered. And then you know from which hand you give alms, and from which you make restitution. And according to this understanding Tobias said to his son, “My son… Give alms out of your substance, and turn not away your face from any poor person: for so it shall come to pass that the face of the Lord shall not be turned from you,” (Tob 4:7).
The second point is on the part of the intention of giving alms. The hand is called “right,” when the intention is righteous [recta]. When alms are given solely out of love and honor of God who has given us so much alms, by creating, providing and redeeming us with the treasure of his blood. This intention is called the right hand. Or by thinking, “I shall now give alms, so that when I ask for alms at the gate of paradise, God might give me a crumb of his glory. This therefore is a right intention. Beware therefore lest you give alms from a “left” [sinistra] intention, of praise or vainglory. “Let not your left hand know,” the intention of vain glory. Many great works are lost because of a “left” intention.
The third point, the manner of giving alms, which can be good or evil, it is said to be a “right hand” or “left.” The good way of giving alms is, when alms, a work of piety, are given with piety, benignity, and out of pure charity; then they are given with the right hand. When however given in a bad way, it is given like bread to a dog, or because they pretend not to hear the poor, or with indignation at the insistence of a beggar, then it is given by the left hand. And so the text says, “Therefore when you give alms…” And so the counsel of the Apostle must be kept saying, “Every one as he has determined in his heart, not with sadness, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver,” (2Cor 9:7). A practical note. When someone goes to church, he should carry in his hand what he proposes to give out of love of God. See why he says, “But when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” So the advice of the theme is kept, “Take heed that you do not your justice before men,” (Mt 6:1).
PENITENCE OF THE SOUL
I say, third, that in the third part of the gospel, Christ our Lord shows how to do penitential justice from a rational soul, not before men, but secretly. “And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you when you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret: and your Father who sees in secret will repay you,” (Mt 6:5-6). This is said about the manner of praying of the ancient hypocrites in the synagogues, villages and street corners, where people would gather so they might be seen. O about these blessed ones, about whom Christ in the gospel said, “Amen I say to you, they have received their reward,” (Mt 6:5). O stupid ones, that such a precious jewel, as is prayer, they give away for such a paltry and contemptible price. And so Christ shows us how to pray saying, “But you when you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret: and your Father who sees in secret will repay you,” (Mt 6:6).
Note, “into your chamber.” But someone can say about this, “Should one NOT pray in the temple of God, or in the church?” Response: this is understood in two ways. In the first way, the conscience is said to be the secret chamber, and this prayer happens in the churches, namely not crying out nor making grand gestures in order to be seen, lest others be disturbed, but “by shutting the door,” i.e. praying secretly. And this ought to be understood about prayers which happen in public or in common. About other special prayers, and the rest a man should shut himself up in his room. So the text is understood.
But here someone can argue saying, It seems that our Lord in his teaching is contradicting himself, because he says in today’s gospel, “Take heed that you do not your justice before men,” And in another place he says, “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” (Mt 5:16). This seems to be a contradiction. Response: It is not a contradiction. But hear the explanation. Christ since he is the Lord and universal master gives his teaching to men, both to perfect persons, and also to the imperfect. Because they had to instruct others and to inform them in the spiritual life and teaching, he was saying, “You are the light of the world,” (Mt 5:14). And he was speaking to the apostles and other perfect persons, whom the winds of adulation did not harm. And so he said, “So let your light shine,” namely your good works and catholic teaching, “before men, that they may see ..,” etc. as if he had said, “Bear the royal banner,” that is, the evangelical teaching, “under the standard of a good life,” that all might say, “Certainly this one practices what he preaches, because otherwise he is not believed.”
But to the imperfect, and those just beginning a good life, whom the winds of praise might harm, he says, “Take heed that you do not your justice before men,” This question was once asked by St. Antoninus, who explained it in this way, “Just as a great fire is not extinguished by the wind, rather it is even increased, but a tiny light is blown out by the wind, so also a great fire of ardent devotion and charity is in the body of the perfect, but a modest fire in the imperfect. And so it is immediately extinguished by the slightest breath of praise, but in the perfect it is fanned and grows the more. And note this in the great honor given to St. Peter, when he came to Antioch, and to St. John returning from exile, and to St. Paul in Galatians, as is clear in Galatians 4.
WE MUST not rely too much upon ourselves, for grace and understanding are often lacking in us. We have but little inborn light, and this we quickly lose through negligence. Often we are not aware that we are so blind in heart. Meanwhile we do wrong, and then do worse in excusing it. At times we are moved by passion, and we think it zeal. We take others to task for small mistakes, and overlook greater ones in ourselves. We are quick enough to feel and brood over the things we suffer from others, but we think nothing of how much others suffer from us. If a man would weigh his own deeds fully and rightly, he would find little cause to pass severe judgment on others.
The interior man puts the care of himself before all other concerns, and he who attends to himself carefully does not find it hard to hold his tongue about others. You will never be devout of heart unless you are thus silent about the affairs of others and pay particular attention to yourself. If you attend wholly to God and yourself, you will be little disturbed by what you see about you.
Where are your thoughts when they are not upon yourself? And after attending to various things, what have you gained if you have neglected self? If you wish to have true peace of mind and unity of purpose, you must cast all else aside and keep only yourself before your eyes.
You will make great progress if you keep yourself free from all temporal cares, for to value anything that is temporal is a great mistake. Consider nothing great, nothing high, nothing pleasing, nothing acceptable, except God Himself or that which is of God. Consider the consolations of creatures as vanity, for the soul that loves God scorns all things that are inferior to Him. God alone, the eternal and infinite, satisfies all, bringing comfort to the soul and true joy to the body.
The Joy of a Good Conscience
THE glory of a good man is the testimony of a good conscience. Therefore, keep your conscience good and you will always enjoy happiness, for a good conscience can bear a great deal and can bring joy even in the midst of adversity. But an evil conscience is ever restive and fearful.
Sweet shall be your rest if your heart does not reproach you.
Do not rejoice unless you have done well. Sinners never experience true interior joy or peace, for “there is no peace to the wicked,” says the Lord. Even if they say: “We are at peace, no evil shall befall us and no one dares to hurt us,” do not believe them; for the wrath of God will arise quickly, and their deeds will be brought to naught and their thoughts will perish.
To glory in adversity is not hard for the man who loves, for this is to glory in the cross of the Lord. But the glory given or received of men is short lived, and the glory of the world is ever companioned by sorrow. The glory of the good, however, is in their conscience and not in the lips of men, for the joy of the just is from God and in God, and their gladness is founded on truth.
The man who longs for the true, eternal glory does not care for that of time; and he who seeks passing fame or does not in his heart despise it, undoubtedly cares little for the glory of heaven.
He who minds neither praise nor blame possesses great peace of heart and, if his conscience is good, he will easily be contented and at peace.
Praise adds nothing to your holiness, nor does blame take anything from it. You are what you are, and you cannot be said to be better than you are in God’s sight. If you consider well what you are within, you will not care what men say about you. They look to appearances but God looks to the heart. They consider the deed but God weighs the motive.
It is characteristic of a humble soul always to do good and to think little of itself. It is a mark of great purity and deep faith to look for no consolation 64in created things. The man who desires no justification from without has clearly entrusted himself to God: “For not he who commendeth himself is approved,” says St. Paul, “but he whom God commendeth.”
To walk with God interiorly, to be free from any external affection—this is the state of the inward man.
HOW WE ARE TO CONFORM OURSELVES TO THAT DIVINE WILL, WHICH IS CALLED THE SIGNIFIED WILL.
WE sometimes consider God’s will as it is in itself, and finding it all holy and all good, we willingly praise, bless and adore it, and sacrifice our own and all other creatures’ wills to its obedience, by that divine exclamation: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
At other times we consider God’s will in the particular effects of it, as in the events that touch us, and accidents that befall us, and finally in the declaration and manifestation of his intentions. And although God in reality has but one quite single and most simple will, yet we call it by different names, according to the variety of the means whereby we know it; by which variety also we are, in various ways, obliged to conform ourselves to it.
Christian doctrine clearly proposes unto us the truths which God wills that we should believe, the goods he will have us hope for, the pains he will have us dread, what he will have us love, the commandments he will have us observe, and the counsels he desires us to follow. And this is called God’s signified will, because he has signified and made manifest unto us that it is his will and intention that all this should be believed, hoped for, feared, loved and practised.
Now forasmuch as this signified will of God proceeds by way of desire, and not by way of absolute will, we have power either to follow it by obedience, or by disobedience to resist it; for to this purpose God makes three acts of his will: he wills that we should be able to resist, he desires that we should not resist, and yet allows us to resist if we please. That we have power to resist depends on our natural condition and liberty; that we do resist proceeds from our malice; that we do not resist is according to the desire of the divine goodness.
And therefore when we resist, God contributes nothing to our disobedience, but leaving our will in the hands of its liberty permits it to make choice of evil; but when we obey, God contributes his assistance, his inspiration, and his grace. For permission is an action of the will which of itself is barren, sterile and fruitless, and is as it were a passive action, which acts not but only permits action; desire on the contrary is an active, fruitful, fertile action, which excites, invites and urges.
Wherefore God, in his desire that we should follow his signified will, solicits, exhorts, excites, inspires, aids and succours us, but in permitting us to resist he does nothing but simply leave us to our own wills, according to our free election, contrary to his desire and intention. And yet this desire is a true desire, for how can one more truly express the desire that his friend should make good cheer, than by providing a good and excellent banquet, as did the king in the Gospel parable, and then, inviting, urging, and in a manner compelling him, by prayers, exhortations and pressing messages, to come and sit down at the table and eat.
In truth, he that should by main force open his friend’s mouth, cram meat into his throat, and make him swallow it, would not be giving courteous entertainment to his friend, but would be using him like a beast, and like a capon that has to be fattened.
This kind of favour requires to be offered by way of invitation, persuasion, and solicitation, not violently and forcibly thrust upon a man, and hence it is done by way of desire, not of absolute will. Now it is the same with regard to the signified will of God: for in this, God desires with a true desire that we should do what he makes known, and to this end he provides us with all things necessary, exhorting and urging us to make use of them.
In this kind of favour one could desire no more, and as the sunbeams cease not to be true sunbeams when they are shut out and repulsed by some obstacle, so God’s signified will remains the true will of God even if it be resisted, though it has not the effects which it would have if it were seconded.
The conformity then of our heart to the signified will of God consists in this, that we will all that the divine goodness signifies unto us to be of his intention,—believing according to his doctrine, hoping according to his promises, fearing according to his threats, loving and living according to his ordinances and admonitions, to which all the protestations which we make so often in the holy ceremonies of the Church do tend.
For on this account we stand while the Gospel is read, as being prepared to obey the holy signification of God’s will contained therein; hence we kiss the book at the place of the Gospel, in adoration of the sacred word which declares his heavenly will.
Hence many saints of the old time carried in their bosoms the Gospel written, as an epithem of love, as is related of S. Cecily, and S. Matthew’s Gospel was actually found upon the heart of the dead S. Barnabas, written with his own hand. Wherefore in the ancient councils, in the midst of the whole assembly of Bishops, there was erected a high throne, and upon it was placed the book of the holy Gospels, which represented the person of our Saviour,—King, Doctor, Director, Spirit and sole Heart of the Councils, and of the whole Church: so much did they reverence the signification of God’s will expressed in that divine book. Indeed that great mirror of the pastoral order, S. Charles, Archbishop of Milan, never studied the holy Scripture but bareheaded and upon his knees, to testify with what respect we are to read and hear the signified will of God.
Treatise on the Love of God – St. Francis de Sales