On Modesty and Mortification

St. Anthony Mary Claret wrote his autobiography reluctantly and only under obedience to his
religious superiors. This chapter out of his book details the apostolic techniques which
proved so successful in saving souls. Our Lord told him several times: “Give me blood
(mortification) and I will give you spirit.”

St. Anthony resolved never to waste a moment of time and during his 35 years a priest, he
wrote 144 books and preached some 25,000 sermons. On one trip, besides traveling, he
preached 205 sermons in 48 days – 12 in one day. Giving the reason he worked so zealously,
he wrote: “If you were to see a blind man about to fall into a pit or over a precipice, would
you not warn him? Behold, I do the same and do it I must, for this is my duty. I must warn
sinners and make them see the precipice which leads to the unquenchable fires of Hell, for
they will surely go there if they do not amend their ways. Woe to me if I do not preach and
warn them, for I would be held responsible for their condemnation.”

Besides working numerous miracles throughout his priestly life, St. Anthony Mary possessed
the gifts of prophecy and discernment of hearts. Often Our Lord and Our Lady would appear
to him. Once Our Lord told him that three great judgments would soon descend upon the
world: 1. Protestantism and Communism; 2. The love of pleasures and money and
independence of reason and will; 3. Great wars with their horrible consequences. He boldly
proclaimed: “The sole reason why society is perishing is because it has refused to hear the
word of the Church, which is the word of God. All plans for salvation will be sterile if the
great word of the Catholic Church is not restored in all its fullness.”

Here are his words on mortification:

The missionary is a spectacle to God, to the Angels, and to men. For this reason, he must be
very circumspect and prudent in all his words, works, and ways. To this effect, I resolved that
my conduct both at home and away from it, should be to talk very little, and to weigh every
word I uttered, because people not infrequently take words to mean other than the speaker
intends them to mean.

When talking to others, I proposed never to make gestures with my hands. In some places
this is strongly ridiculed and looked upon as displeasing. My constant intention was always
to speak sparingly, and that only when necessary. I resolved to speak briefly, and in a quiet
and grave manner, without touching my face, chin, head, and much less my nose. I
determined also never to make grimaces with my mouth, or to utter any funny or ridiculous
statement, and never to ridicule anyone, because I saw that by doing these things, the
missionary loses much of the authority, respect and veneration which is his due. All this is
the result of fickleness, scant mortification, and little modesty. These habits and similar
coarseness of manners manifest little or no education on the part of their possessors.

The missioner must also be at peace with all as St. Paul says. Now, with this in mind, I never
scolded anyone, but tried to be kind to all. I endeavored also never to pass funny remarks
about anyone, nor did I like to indulge in any form of buffoonery or mockery at another’s
expense. Laughing did not appeal to me, although I always manifested joy, gentleness and
kindness in my person, for I remembered that Jesus was never seen to laugh, although He was
seen weeping on some occasions. Those words also helped me determine my conduct:
“Stultus in risu exaltat vocem suam; vir autem sapiens vix tacite ridebit — The fool raises his
voice in laughter, but the wise man will scarcely laugh in silence.”

Modesty, as we all know, is that virtue which teaches us how to do all things in the right way.
It sets before our eyes how Jesus did things, and it tells us to do the same. So, before each
action that I was about to do, I always asked myself, and still do, how Jesus Christ would do
it. What care, purity and rectitude of intention should I have if I were to act like my Divine
Model! How He preached; how He conversed; how He ate and rested; how He dealt with all
manner of people; how He prayed; in fine, all His ways of doing things, were the sum and
substance of my constant meditation and efforts, for with God’s grace I determined to imitate
Our Lord in everything, so as to be able to say with the Apostle, if not by word of mouth, then
by my works: “Be ye imitators of me as I am of Christ.”

I understood, O God, that if the missionary is to gather fruit in his ministry, it is essential for
him to be not only irreproachable, but also in all places a man of virtue. People respect much
more that which they see in a missionary than what they hear about him. this is proved by
those words concerning Our Lord, the Model Missionary: “Coepit facere et docere.” First of
all He did things, then He taught afterwards.

Thou knowest, O my God, the number of times that in spite of all my resolutions I have failed
against holy modesty. Thou wilt surely know if some have been scandalized by my lack of
observance of this virtue. My Lord, if such be the case, I beg Thy pardon and mercy. I give
Thee my word that, putting into practice the words of the Apostle, I will do my best to make
my modesty known to all men. I promise that my modesty shall be like that of Jesus Christ,
as St. Paul exhorts so strongly, and that I will imitate the humble St. Francis of Assisi who
preached by his modesty, and converted many people by his good example. O my Lord Jesus,
Love of my heart. I love Thee, and wish to draw all men to Thy most holy love!

Without mortification I knew that modesty was impossible. therefore I endeavored with the
utmost determination to acquire this virtue of self-denial, cost what it might, yet always
relying on the help of God’s grace.

In the first place, I resolved to deprive myself of all taste or preference, and to give it to God.
Without knowing how, I felt myself obliged to fulfill what was only of precept. My
understanding was confronted with an inevitable alternative; either I should cater to my own
taste or to God’s. Now, as my understanding saw this gross inequality even though in such a
small matter as this, I felt myself obliged to follow the good pleasure of God. Therefore, I
willingly denied myself innocent and legitimate pleasures in order to have all my taste and
gratification in God. I follow this rule even now in all things, in regard to meals, drink, sleep,
in talking, looking, listening, and going to any part of the country, etc…

The grace of God has helped me a great deal in the practice of mortification, for I know that
this habit of denying oneself is indispensably necessary to make one’s work for souls fruitful,
as well as one’s prayer pleasing to God Our Lord.

In a very special manner have the examples of Jesus and Mary and the Saints encouraged me
in this practice of mortification. I read assiduously the Lives of the Saints to see how they
were wont to deny themselves, and I have made special notes which regulate my personal
conduct. Singular among them must be mentioned St. Bernard, St. Peter of Alcantara, and St.
Philip of Neri, of whom I have read that after having been for thirty years the confessor of a
Roman lady renowned for her rare beauty, he still did not know her by sight.

I can say with certainty that I know the many women who come to confession to me more by
their voice than by their features, because I never look at any woman’s face. In their presence
I blush and turn red. Not that the looking at them causes me temptations, for I do not have
them, thanks be to God, but the fact still remains that I always blush, even though I cannot
explain why. I might mention here that I naturally and in an entirely unaccountable manner
keep in mind and observe that oft-repeated admonition of the holy Fathers, which goes:
Sermo rigidus et brevis cum muliere est habendus et oculos humi dejectos habe — Speech
with women must be serious and brief, while the eyes must be cast on the ground. I know not
how to hold a conversation with a woman, no matter how good she may be. In few and grave
words I tell her what she must know, and then immediately I dismiss her without looking to
see if she be rich or poor, beautiful or ugly.

When I was giving missions in Catalonia, I stayed at the rectories of those parishes in which I
gave missions. During all that time I do not remember having looked at the face of any
woman, whether she happened to be the housekeeper, the servant, or the relative of the parish-
priest. Once it happened that after some time I returned to Vich, or some other town, and I
was accosted by a lady who said to me: “Anthony Claret, don’t you know me? I am the
housekeeper of such and such a priest in whose parish you were for so many days giving a
mission.” but I did not recognize her; neither did I look at her. With my gaze fixed on the
ground, I asked her: “And how is his Reverence the pastor?”

What is more, I shall relate another instance which could not have been so, had I not received
very special graces from heaven. While I was in the island of Cuba, for six years and two
months to be exact, I confirmed more than 300,000 persons, the majority of whom were
women, and young ones at that. If any one were to ask me what are the characteristics of the
Cuban women’s features, I would say that I do not know, despite the fact that I have
confirmed so many of them. In order to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, I had to
look where their foreheads were, and this I did in a rapid glance, after which I shut my eyes
and kept them shut all during the administration of the Sacrament.

Besides this blushing that was natural to me when in the presence of women, and which
hindered me from looking at them, there was another reason which prompted me to adhere to
this mode of conduct. It was the desire to profit souls. I remember having read years ago of a
famous preacher who went to preach in a certain town. His preaching turned out to be very
fruitful, and all the townsfolk were lavish in their praise of him. “Oh, what a saint!” said
they. Yet there was one exception of all these praises, and it came from a wicked man who
said: “Perhaps he is a saint, but I can tell you one thing, and it is this: he likes women a great
deal, for he was staring at them.” This single expression was enough in itself to decrease the
prestige which the good preacher had merited in that town, and not only that, but it brought to
naught all the fruit which his preaching had produced.

Incidentally, I have also noticed that people form a poor opinion of a priest who does not
mortify his eyes. Of Jesus Christ I read that He was always mortified and modest in regard to
His looks, for the Evangelists have accounted as an extraordinary occurrence each time He
lifted up His eyes.
The hearing was another faculty which I tried to mortify continually, especially disliking to
listen to superfluous conversations and idle words. I could never suffer or tolerate those
conversations which were detrimental to charity. If I happened to be present at one of them, I
would either withdraw or refrain from taking part in it, or I would show my disapproval by
the sad expression my face. This distaste applied also to conversations about food, drink,
riches, or any worldly topic, including political news. neither did I care to read newspapers,
for I should prefer to read a chapter of the Holy Bible wherein I know for sure that what I read
is true. In newspapers, as a general rule, one finds only a great deal of lies and useless

It was my constant aim to deny myself in regard to speaking. Just as I have said that I dislike
to hear useless things, so also in the same way I hated to talk of useless nothings. My
resolution also embraced my keeping quiet about my sermons. I resolved never to talk of my
sermons after their delivery. Since I myself was repelled by others talking of what they
delivered, I concluded that others would be displeased with me if I, too, talked about my
sermons. Thus, my fixed resolve was never to mention my sermons after delivering them, to
do my very best in the pulpit, and to recommend all to God. If anyone gave me advice about
my preaching, I received it with sincere gratitude and without excusing myself or explaining
my views on the matter. I tried to amend and correct myself as much as possible.

I have observed before now that some people behave like hens which cackle after they lay
their eggs, and thus are deprived of them. The same happens to some priests of little
prudence, who, as soon as they have done some good work, such as hearing confession, or
delivering a sermon or lecture, go in search of the baubles of vanity by speaking so smugly of
what they have done and what they have said. Just as the hearing of this repels me, I conclude
that I would repel others if I were to talk of the very same subjects. Thus, I have made it an
inflexible rule never to speak of what I have done.

The subject which was most repugnant to me was the talking of things heard in confession,
not only because of the danger involved in breaking the sacramental seal of confession, but
also because of the bad effect produced on such people as may happen to hear anything of this
nature. In view of these facts, I resolved on no account to speak of persons and their affairs in
relation to confession, whether they had not been to confession for a long or short time,
whether they had made a general confession or not, in a word, to say absolutely nothing of
these affairs. I disliked hearing of priests who spoke of those who had gone to confession to
them, what they had confessed and how long it had been since they had absented themselves
from that sacrament of reconciliation. If any priest came to consult me about certain
problems encountered in the confessional, I could not bear to hear him using the words: “I
find myself in such a situation, with such a case; what shall I do?” I would tell them to
recount their difficulties in the third person, as for example: “Let us suppose that a confessor
is confronted with such and such a case of a certain nature. What steps should be taken?”

Our Lord gave me to understand that one of the things which would be of the utmost utility to
the missionary is the virtue of self-denial in the matter of food and drink. The Italians have a
saying which goes: “Not much credit is given to saints who eat.” People believe that
missionaries are more heavenly than earthly beings, that at least they are like unto the saints
of God who need not eat or drink. God Our Lord has given me a very special grace in this
regard, of going without eating, or eating very little. There were three reasons in my case for
not eating much. Firstly, because I was unable to do so, not having an appetite, especially
when I had to preach very often or had to hear many confessions. At other times I used to be
somewhat hungry, but I did not eat even then, particularly when I was traveling, for I would
refrain from doing so in order to be able to walk better. Finally, I would abstain from eating
in order to edify, for I observed that everybody was watching me. From this it can be
gathered that I ate very little, in spite of the fact that I was, at times, very hungry.

Whenever I did eat, I took what was given me, always however, in small quantities, and food
of inferior quality. If I happened to reach the rectory of the parish at an unseasonable hour, I
would tell the cook to prepare only a little soup and an egg — nothing more. I never took
meat; not even now do I eat it, not because I do not like it, for I do, but because I know that
not taking it is most edifying. Neither did I take wine; although I like it, it has been years
since I have tasted it, excluding, of course, the ablutions at Mass. The same may be said of
liquor and spirits of any kind; I never take them, although I am still fond of them, since I used
to take a little in years gone by. Abstaining from food and drink is a source of edification, and
is even necessary nowadays in order to counteract the disgraceful excesses so prevalent in
these times.

When I was in Segovia in the year 1859, on the 4th of September, at 4:25 in the morning,
while I was at meditation, Jesus Christ said to me: “You have to teach mortification in eating
and drinking to your missionaries, Anthony.” A few minutes afterwards the Blessed Virgin
told me: “By doing this you will reap fruit in souls, Anthony.”

At that time I was giving a mission in the cathedral of Segovia to the clergy, the nuns, and the
people of that city. One day while all were at table it was mentioned that the former Bishop, a
man of marked zeal, had exhorted some priests to go and give missions — an exhortation
which they fulfilled to the letter. After having walked a fair distance, these priests began to
get so hungry and thirsty that they decided to stop and have lunch, since they had brought
some food and drink with them. Meanwhile some people of the town to which they were
going came to welcome them, but finding the priests eating, the people lost their esteem for
them, so much so that those missionaries were unable to make any headway in that town. So
the story goes at any rate, although I do not know how it originated. All I know is, that it was
as a confirmation of what had been told me by Jesus and Mary.

My experience has taught me that mortification is very edifying in a missionary. Even now it
stands me in good stead. In the Palace here at Madrid, banquets are held frequently, while
before they were even more frequent. I am always invited to them, but if it is possible, I
excuse myself. If I cannot possibly excuse myself from attending, I go to them, but always
eat less than usual on those festive occasions. It is my custom then to take only a little soup
and a small piece of fruit; nothing else — no wine, no water. Of course, all look at me and are
highly edified. Before I came to Madrid, as I am led to understand, disorders were rampant
everywhere. Indeed, this could be easily gathered. So many rich and sumptuous dishes,
exquisite meals, and so much wine of all kinds decked the tables, that inducements to excess
were not wanting. But since the time that I was obliged to take part in the banquets, I have
not noticed the slightest excess; on the contrary, it appears to me that the guests refrain from
taking what they need, because they see me not eating. Often at the table, those guests sitting
on both sides talk to me of spiritual subjects, and even ask the name of the church in which I
hear confessions, so as to come there themselves and confess their sins.

In order to edify my neighbor more and more, I have always refrained from smoking and
taking snuff. Never have I said, or even hinted, that one thing pleases me more than the
another. I have done this for as long as I can remember. Our Lord had so bestowed upon me
this heavenly blessing of indifference that my dear mother (requiescat in pace) died without
knowing what things I liked most. As she loved me so very much, she would try to please me
by asking if I would like to have certain things in preference to other things. I would answer
that I was pleased most of all by whatever she chose and gave me. But this reply would not
be enough, for she would add: “I know that very well, but we always like some things more
than others.” To this I would respond that whatever she gave me was the thing I liked most of
all. I naturally had inclinations for what suited me best, as we all have; but the spiritual
satisfaction I had in doing another’s will was so great that it surpassed the natural satisfaction
resulting from doing my own will. Thus, I told the truth when I assured my mother that her
will was my greatest pleasure.

Besides denying self in regard to sight, hearing, speaking, in the senses of taste and smell, I
tried also to perform some acts of mortification, such as taking the discipline on Mondays,
Wednesdays and Fridays, and wearing the cilice on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. If,
however, I found that circumstances of time and place did not favor these modes of penance, I
used to practice some other form of mortification, as for example: praying with the arms
stretched out in the form of a cross, or with the fingers under the knees. I know very well that
worldly people and those who have not the spirit of Jesus Christ make little of, and even
disapprove of, these mortifications. But for my part, I keep in mind the teaching laid down by
St. John of the Cross which states: “If anyone affirms that one can reach perfection without
practicing exterior mortification, do not believe him; and even though he confirm this
assertion by working miracles, know that his contentions are nothing but illusions.”

As for me, I look to St. Paul for my example, for he mortified himself, and said publicly:
“Castigo corpus meum et in servitutem redigo, ne forte cum aliis praedicaverim ipse reprobus
efficiar — I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps when I have preached
to others I myself may become a castaway.” All the saints until now have done in like
manner. Venerable Rodriquez says that the Blessed Virgin said to St. Elizabeth of Hungary,
that no spiritual grace comes to the soul, commonly speaking, except by way of prayer and
bodily afflictions. There is an old principle which goes: “Da mihi sanguinem et dabo tibi
spiritum.” Woe to those who are enemies of mortification and of the cross of Christ!

In one act of mortification one can practice many virtues, according to the different ends
which one proposes in each act, as for example:

1. He who mortifies his body for the purpose of checking concupiscence, performs an act
of the virtue of temperance.
2. If he does this, purposing thereby to regulate his life well, it will be an act of the virtue
of prudence.
3. If he mortifies himself for the purpose of satisfying for the sins of his past life, it will
be an act of justice.
4. If he does it with the intention of conquering the difficulties of the spiritual life, it will
be an act of fortitude.
5. If he practices this virtue of mortification for the end of offering a sacrifice to God,
depriving himself of what he likes, and doing that which is bitter and repugnant to
nature, it will be an act of the virtue of religion.
6. If he intends by mortification to receive greater light to know the divine attributes, it
will be an act of faith.
7. If he does it for the purpose of making his salvation more and more secure, it will be
an act of hope.
8. If he denies himself in order to help in the conversion of sinners, and for the release of
the poor souls in purgatory, it will be an act of charity towards his neighbor.
9. If he does it so as to help the poor, it will be an act of mercy.
10. If he mortifies himself for the sake of pleasing God more and more, it will be an act of
love of God.

In other words, I shall be able to put all these virtues into practice in one act of mortification,
according to the end I propose to myself while doing the said act.

Virtue has so much more merit, is more resplendent, charming and attractive, when
accompanied by greater sacrifice.

Man, who is vile, weak, mean, cowardly, never makes a sacrifice, and is not even capable of
doing so, for he never resists even one appetite or desire. Everything that his concupiscence
and passions demand, he concedes, if it is in his power to yield or reject, for he is base and
cowardly, and lets himself be conquered and completely overcome, just as the braver of two
fighters conquers the cowardly one. So it is with vice and the vicious — the latter is crushed
and the slave of his vices. Continence and chastity are therefore worthy of the highest praise,
because the man who practices purity refrains from the pleasure which proceeds from nature
or passion. Thus, the greater merit will be his the greater the pleasure he has denied himself.
His merit will be the greater in proportion to the amount of repugnance he will have in
conquering himself, in proportion to the intense and prolonged suffering he will have to
undergo, to the human respect he will have to vanquish, and to the sacrifices he will have to
make. Let him do all this and suffer all for the love of virtue and for God’s greater glory. As
to my exterior deportment, I proposed to myself modesty and recollection and in the interior
of my soul my aim was continual and ardent occupation in God. In my work I aimed at
patience, silence and suffering. The exact accomplishment of the law of God and of the
Church, the obligations of my state of life as prescribed by God. I tried to do good to others,
flee from sin, faults and imperfections, and to practice virtue.

All disagreeable, painful and humiliating happenings I considered as coming from God and
ordered by Him for my own good. Even now, as I think of it, I fix my mind on God when
such things occur, bowing in silence and with resignation to His most holy will; for I
remember that Our Lord has said that not even a hair of our head shall fall without the will of
our heavenly Father, Who loves us so much.

I know that three hundred years of faithful service to God are paid, and more than paid, when
I am permitted an hour of suffering, so great is its value. O my Jesus and my Master, Thy
servants who suffer tribulation, persecution, and abandonment by friends, who are crucified
by exterior labors and by interior crosses, who are deprived of all spiritual consolation yet
who suffer in silence and persevere in Thy love, O my Lord — these are Thy loved ones, and
the ones who please Thee most and whom Thou dost esteem most.

Thus I have resolved never to excuse or defend myself when others censure, calumniate and
persecute me, because I would be the loser before God and men. I realize this because my
calumniators and persecutors would make use of the truths and reasons I would bring forward
in order to oppose me still further.

I believe that all my crosses come from God. Furthermore, God’s will in my regard is that I
suffer with patience and for the love of Him all pains of body and soul, as well as those
persecutions directed against my honor. It is my firm belief that I shall be thus doing what
will be for the greater glory of God, for I shall then be suffering in silence, like Jesus, Who
died on the Cross abandoned by all.

To labor and to suffer for the one we love is the greatest proof of our love.

God was made man for us. But what kind of man? How was He born? How did He live?
Yes, and what a death He endured! Ego sum vermis et non homo, et abjectio plebis — I am a
worm and no man, and the outcast of the people. Jesus is God and Man, but His Divinity did
not help His Humanity in His crosses and sufferings, just as the souls of the just in heaven do
not help their bodies which rot under the earth.

In a very special manner God helped the martyrs in their sufferings, but this same God
abandoned Jesus in His crosses and torments, so that He was indeed a Man of Sorrows. The
body of Our Lord was most delicately formed, and therefore more sensitive to pain and
suffering. Well, then, who is capable of forming an idea of how much Jesus suffered? All
His life, suffering was ever present. How much did He have to suffer for our love! Ah, what
pains He underwent, so long-enduring and intense!

O Jesus, Love of my life, I know and realize that pains, sorrows and labors are the lot of the
apostolate, but with the help of Thy grace I embrace them. I have had my share of them, and
now I can say that by Thy aid, my Lord and my Father, I am ready to drain this chalice of
interior trials and am resolved to receive this baptism of exterior suffering. My God, far be it
from me to glory in anything save in the cross, upon which Thou wert once nailed for me.
And I, dear Lord, wish to be nailed to the cross for Thee. So may it be. Amen.

St. Vincent Ferrer – Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent

The Transfiguration – Matthew 17:1-9

   “Let us make here three tents,” (Mt 17:4).  We continue our reading in today’s gospel.  By way of introducing these words and the matter to be preached about, it must be known that in sacred scripture the devout hearing and listening to the gospel teaching are called tabernacles [or tents].  For if we analyze well the usefulness of tents, rightly they are compared to gospel teaching.  For when tents or tabernacles, are pitched by soldiers, they are done for three reasons:

  1. The first reason is because of the heat of the sun, to keep cool,
  2. The second, against the gusting of the wind, for protection,
  3. Third, for shelter against the rain.

   All these benefits gospel teaching gives to those who listen carefully, and this against a threefold defect.

  1. First, gospel teaching cools and preserves a man against the stimulation and ardor of the flesh, which moves many and stimulates them into sins of lust. Some are tempted to avarice, others into other sins.  These teachings, therefore, give cool shelter against the ardor of the flesh.
  2. Second, in this world there are many winds and storms and temptations of demons, but not inside the tent, i.e.of prayer and contemplation.  For prayer and contemplation keep out the temptations of the devil.
  3. Third, there are great rains and floods, and these are the world, which offers many occasions for sinning.  But enter the tent of gospel teaching and you will find there a remedy.  And so Isaiah says of gospel teaching, “Over all the glory shall be a protection. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shade in the daytime from the heat, and for a security and covert from the whirlwind, and from rain.” (Isa 4:5-6).  So, prayer or contemplation gives cooling in the day against the ardor of the flesh. See, the first usefulness. And it gives security against the force of the wind, and this is its second strength or utility.  And it provides shelter from the rains, and so the third benefit.

   And so, by both reason and authority, these teachings appear like a tent, and so I intend to preach on three teachings, which are the three tents.  “Let us make here three tents,” which was our theme. Our sermon, therefore, shall contemplate this glorious transfiguration in three ways, a triple contemplation.

            First because this transfiguration was gloriously celebrated,

            Second because this transfiguration was calmly received,

            Third because this transfiguration was piously kept hidden.



   My good people, let us place ourselves in these three tents, or in one of them.  I say first that it was gloriously celebrated, because in the gospel it is said, ” …Jesus takes with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and brings them up to a high mountain apart: And he was transfigured before them. And his face shone like the sun: and his garments became white as snow.  And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him,” (Mt 17:1-3).  And here I wish to pitch the first tent for our Lord.

   Jesus chose three to follow him, whom he led to the top of the mountain, to show them the secret. When he prayed, he was transfigured, not that his figure which he already had was changed, but that it shone like the sun – not like the sun shines, but incomparably greater than the sun. But in the gospel it is said “like the sun,” because in the world nothing is found that is brighter, and not only in his face and hands, but also his clothes were like snow, although incomparably more so.

   And two holy men from the past appeared there, i.e. Moses and Elias.  You should understand [it was] the soul of Moses, for he was dead and his soul was in the limbo of the holy patriarchs, but Elias was not dead, rather he was alive, still living in a terrestrial paradise.  He it was who was to preach at the time of the antichrist and against that very antichrist who would kill him, in martyrdom.  And these three apostles, although they never had seen them, instantly recognized them, because of their splendor, and they saw them speaking with Jesus.  Neither Mark nor Matthew report what they talked about, but St. Luke says that they were speaking with each other about the “excess of the passion” of Christ to take place in Jerusalem in those days. [“And they spoke of his decease that he should accomplish in Jerusalem.” (Lk 9: 30f)]

   Now, good people, let us examine this in a practical way.  These two, standing with Jesus, Moses and Elias, adored Jesus, knowing Jesus to be God and man, and they wondered much why he would permit himself to be chained and bound by the Jews, even if for sinners, since he could have accomplished his task by a single word.  Filled with admiration, since he it was who gave glory to the angels and to all the others, they were saying, “O God, how great is this charity.”  Each of them discussed every aspect of his passion and detailed its excesses.  The passion is said to be “excessive” because of the extremes of sufferings and love which he has shown to us, for, God, indeed is rich in mercy and because of this exceeding charity and mercy he has loved us, according to what is said in Ephesians, 2, “But God, (who is rich in mercy,) for his exceeding charity wherewith he loved us,” (Eph 2:4). See how gloriously this transfiguration is celebrated.  Behold, the first tent.  Here we rest against the attack and the temptation of the devil.  And this is the literal sense.

   And now we enter [its] secrets.  First we ask why Christ wished to be transfigured.  Second, about the people he wished to invite.

   My answer to the first is so that he might reveal his intrinsic glory and secrets.  Just as it is said by the teachers.  When Christ assumed humanity, let us see why he assumed it. I say for two reasons.  For his soul, as it was created in the womb of the Virgin Mary, immediately had such glory as he has now in heaven, and this because of his divinity.  It was a spiritual substance.  Nevertheless it was hidden in the body.  And so we say, “…and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,” (Jn 1:14).  It assumes a body, not glorious, but vulnerable and mortal, like us, and even more vulnerable than ours, and this for our sake.  But it was otherwise for the soul.  So because of his weakness he could be assimilated to his brothers in all things, as we read in Hebrews, “Wherefore he had to be made like unto his brethren in all things, that he might become  merciful,” (Heb 2:17).  In such a body was the glorious soul, but it was not seen by people.  By which it is believed that, just like the body, so too the soul would be vulnerable.  Christ wished to show that this was not so.  For this reason he wished to show his glory which poured out of his body and overflowed.

   And listen to this parable.  There is a man dressed in rags, yet he is extremely rich.  People would consider him to be poor.  He might gather all his friends and his family and show them his wealth, and the people followed him saying, that, although he is badly dressed, he is rich, we will follow him.  So the common saying is, “Money makes for good friends.”  So Christ wished to be transfigured.  For already he had promised when he said, “There are some of them that stand here, that shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,” (Mt 16:28).  And he was speaking of those whom he now took with himself.

   Morally, for your sake.  Christ first had glory and yet his body was capable of suffering.  So for the souls of the saints who pass from this life to the next.  First their souls are in glory, and yet their bodies remain in corruption.  Nevertheless our body shall be transfigured, on the day of the resurrection, and the glorified soul will take up its body and overflow into the body.   And that glorified body is called bright, and on the day of judgment it shall  be brighter than the sun. And so it is said: “Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father,” (Mt 13:43).

   To the second question, why did he take just three apostles and not more, and why  not all the saints, but just these two from the Old Testament – he called five, the holy teachers say that from the testimony of two or three every word stands, if you ask about the number.  But if you ask about the people, I say that these Apostles were Christ’s friends.  For by divine promise St. Peter was already constituted pope, he was invited so that he might know even more.  Secondly he called James the Greater, because he was the first to receive martyrdom, as we read in the Acts, 12: “And he killed James, the brother of John, with the sword,” (Acts 12:2).  Third, he called John, because he was a virgin chosen by God, and more beloved than the others, therefore he deserved to be honored more by the Lord.

    I say that he wished to call the dead and the living to the transfiguration, since he is seen to be judge of the living and the dead.  No so for the lords of this age, because they do not judge the dead.  Therefore it is said: “And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul,” (Matt. 10:28).  And Acts 10: “…that it is he who was appointed by God, to be judge of the living and of the dead,” (Acts 10:42).

But why more Elias than Enoch, since he too was still alive?  The question is unresolved.   And why the dead Moses rather than the other holy patriarchs?  Because there are many dead, especially since Abraham was the principal one.  And so it is said, “in the bosom of Abraham,” (cf. Lk 16:23).  I say that I prefer one side of the various opinions about this, that which holds that only two of the holy patriarchs ever fasted for forty days: Moses, in Exodus 34, “And [Moses] was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights: he neither ate bread nor drank water,” (Ex 34:28).  And Elias: “And [he arose, and] ate, and drank, and walked in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights, unto the mount of God, Horeb, “3Kgs 19:8).  Therefore because they fasted forty days, so they merited to be present at the transfiguration, in which it is clear how much this sacred fast of Lent is pleasing to God.

So we should fast for the forty days of Lent so on Easter Day we shall be at the transfiguration, namely by receiving communion, and we shall say with the Apostle [Paul], “But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord,” (2Cor 3:18).

Note here how Christ, Moses and Elias fasted for forty days, and it says that Christ fasted praying.  Luke 6: “That he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God.” (Lk 6:12).  Moses fasted for forty days by listening, (cf. Ex 34,) where it is said that he stayed on the mountain with God.  Elias fasted by journeying or walking, (cf. above. 3Kgs 19).  So we, at the example of Christ, should devote ourselves to praying.  “Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children,” (Eph 5:1), by praying every prayer and observance.  Secondly, following the example of Moses, we should try to attend masses, and sermons and so we will be like Moses.  Third, at the example of Elias, we should try to walk, to journey, in pilgrimage, because when you fast by praying like Christ and listen like Moses, you ought to fast like Elias traveling, that is by visiting churches, because there are many indulgences in such.  Later, go to vespers, so that finally, on Easter, you shall be worthy to have the glory of paradise.

You ought in these times to set aside your courtrooms, your lawsuits, and your objections  and allegations, by rather saying prayers, by saying the Our Father, the Hail Mary, etc. and after hearing a sermon and praying, you should journey forth, as I told you, that you might acquire some riches for your soul.  And remember what Christ said: “Murmur not among yourselves,” (Jn 6:43).  In olden days, during this time [of Lent] court was not open nor was it held, but it is no longer such.  And this about the first tent.



   The second point is that this transfiguration was quietly received by the Apostles, Moses and Elias.  That is clear because St. Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you  wish, let us pitch three tents here,” (Mt 17:4). It was therefore quietly received, because when Christ so stood, transfigured, and the onlookers were perceiving the glory of paradise, Peter said, “It is good for us to be here,” (v. 4), because he tasted the tabernacle (tent) of paradise, because he said, “Let us pitch three tents here,”  as if believing that John would stay with Moses, James with Elias, and that he would be with Christ.  St. Luke says about him, “not knowing what he said,” (Lk 9:33).

Then the shining cloud came and overshadowed them.  About this see, for although a cloud is bright of itself, nevertheless because of an impediment it is seen like a shadow.  And so to those standing there, a voice comes from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son,” (v. 5).   And everyone fell on their face.

And Jesus came to the apostles lying there and he raised them up.  Once on their feet they saw that Moses and Elias had already departed; Moses to the place of the holy patriarchs, Elias to the earthly paradise.

You can imagine that when the soul of Moses came to its place, he was questioned saying,  “Where did you go and what did you see?”  He replied, “I have seen the redeemer of the world, who is already many years old. Soon he shall come to free us.”  O, what a great joy came over them.  The same can be imagined about Elias, when his companion Enoch saw him, and he said to him, “O companion, where did you go?  Where were you?  Tell me some news.  Have you seen the Savior?”  “Certainly,” he replied, “I have seen the Savior.  For I was carried by St. Michael and I clearly saw the Lord transfigured.”   He told him everything.  Consider the sorrow of the other saying, “O why did I not go?  O why was it not I?”  Then he could have replied, “Because you have not fasted.”  So, about Moses someone might think what questions  there had been.   So it was received quietly.

But I ask what was the reason why Christ did not reply to the proposal of Peter saying, “Let us make here three tabernacles.” According to the Gloss, he did not reply verbally, because it was not a rational request.  Well enough!  But I say that Jesus replied secretly.  For Peter was seeking his glory on that mountain and Christ showed that it could not happen for five reasons:

  1. The first is because of the arrival of the cloud.  See, in deed, he replied.
  2. Second because of the voice of the Father.
  3. Third because they had fallen down.
  4. Fourth because Christ helped them to rise up.
  5. Fifth because they saw no one but Christ.

And so Christ wanted first to show Peter the five [events], before he was to come and to have glory.  And first the cloud came and this signifies penance, and so: “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matt. 4:17).  So first penance must be done.

   Second the voice of the Father sounded, “This is my beloved Son, …hear ye him,” (v. 5). It signifies obedience. So it is said, ” But if the wicked do penance for all his sins which he hath committed, and keep all my commandments, and do judgment, and justice, living he shall live,” (Ezek. 18:21).

   Third, fear and humiliation are required, because they fell down. For every saint fears death. For according to the Philosopher (Aristotle), ” Death is the most terrible of all things,” (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 3.6  [1115a27]).

  Fourth, Christ has to come and this on the day of judgment, when, by divine power they shall be raised from death, because Christ made them rise up at his transfiguration when he said to them, “Arise, and fear not.” (v. 7), because sinners fear his appearance. But it is said to the just, “Do not fear, arise.”

  Fifth ” they lifting up their eyes saw no one but only Jesus,” (v. 8), as is understood that only The divine essence and no creature is the object of glory, or of eternal life, speaking of essential or principal glory, about which St. Thomas, [Summa theologiae] I, q. 12, a. 8 in the response to the 4th objection.  And to this vision no creature through its own natural powers can come, as the same St. Thomas beautifully proves in the same question, namely q. 12, a. 4.  And so it is said in Romans 6: “But the grace of God, life everlasting, in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 6:23).

So that shall be the tent. Therefore he has to do all these things after, and in this way Christ responded by action (facto).  And so in the Psalm, “Judge me O God,” it is said, “Send forth your light and your truth: they have conducted me, and brought me unto your holy hill,”  (Ps 42:3), namely to Mount Thabor.  Thus, the second point, namely how the transfiguration was calmly received.



   The third part follows, in which that transfiguration was devoutly hidden.  For the text says: “And as they came down from the mountain, etc.,” Jesus said to them, “Tell the vision to no man, till the Son of man be risen from the dead,”  (v. 9).

But why did he wish that the aforesaid transfiguration be kept hidden?  Response: according to the teachers, the reason of his hiding was the piety of Christ, lest the Apostles and disciples hearing of such glory of Christ, if the transfiguration was revealed to them, and later having seen the ignominy of the passion of Christ, would have been more scandalized and would have sinned more by losing faith.  Thus these three Apostles, “held their peace, and told no man in those days any of these things which they had seen,” (Lk 9:36).

I believe, however, that St. John, with the permission of Christ, told the Virgin Mary of the glory of the transfiguration of Christ, and so, it seems, that Christ wished more for our salvation, than for his glory, when he says, “But I seek not my own glory: there is one that seeks and judges,” (Jn 8:50).  And so it was devoutly hidden, therefore now you have three tents.  Here you rest, especially in these times [of Lent].

More Sermons From This Saint Here

More From St. Francis De Sales

A FATHER directs his wife, his children and his servants by his ordinances and commandments, which they are obliged to obey though they are able not to obey; but if he have servants and slaves, he rules them by force which they have no power to contradict; his horses, oxen and mules he manages by industry, binding, bridling, goading, shutting in, or letting out.
Now the will governs the faculty of our exterior motion as a serf or slave: for unless some external thing hinder, it never fails to obey. We open and shut our mouth, move our tongue, our hands, feet, eyes, and all the members to which the power of this movement refers without resistance, according to our wish and will. But as for our senses and the faculties of nourishing, growing, and producing, we cannot with the same ease govern them, but we must employ industry and art.
If a slave be called he comes, if he be told to stop, he stops; but we must not expect this obedience from a sparrowhawk or falcon: he that desires it should return to the hand must show it the lure; if he would keep it quiet he must hood it. We bid our servant turn to the right or left hand and he does it, but to make a horse so turn we must make use of the bridle. We must not, Theotimus, command our eyes not to see, our ears not to hear, our hands not to touch, our stomach not to digest, or our body not to grow, for these
faculties not having intelligence are not capable of obedience. No one can add a cubit to his stature. We often eat without nourishing ourselves or growing; he that will prevail with these powers must use industry. A physician who has to do with a child in the cradle commands him nothing, but only gives orders to the nurse to do such and such things, or else perchance he prescribes for the nurse to eat this or that meat, to take such and such medicine.
This infuses its qualities into the milk which enters the child’s body, and the physician accomplishes his will in this little weakling who has not even the power to think of it. We must not give the orders of abstinence, sobriety or continency unto the palate or stomach, but the hands must be commanded only to furnish to the mouth meat and drink in such and such a measure, we take away from or give our faculties their object and subject, and the food which strengthens them, as reason requires. If we desire our eyes not to see we must turn them away, or cover them with their natural hood, and shut them, and by these means we may bring them to the point which the will desires.
It would be folly to command a horse not to wax fat, not to grow, not to kick,—to effect all this, stop his corn; you must not command him, you must simply make him do as you wish. The will also exercises a certain power over the understanding and memory, for of many things which the understanding has power to understand and the memory has power to remember, the will determines those to which she would have her faculties apply themselves, or from which divert themselves.
It is true she cannot manage or range them so absolutely as she does the hands, feet or tongue, on account of the sensitive faculties, especially the fancy, which do not obey the will with a prompt and infallible obedience, and which are necessarily required for the operations of the understanding and memory: but yet the will moves, employs and applies these faculties at her pleasure though not so firmly and constantly that the light and variable fancy does not often divert and distract them, so that as the Apostle cries out: I do not the good which I desire, but the evil which I hate. So we are often forced to complain that we think not of the good which we love, but the evil which we hate.
THE will then, Theotimus, bears rule over the memory, understanding and fancy, not by force but by authority, so that she is not infallibly obeyed any more than the father of a family is always obeyed by his children and servants. It is the same as regards the sensitive appetite, which, as S. Augustine says, is called in us sinners concupiscence, and is subject to the will and understanding as the wife to her husband, because as it was said to the woman: Be under thy husband, and he shall have dominion over thee, so was it said to Cain, that the lust of sin should be under him and he should have dominion over it. And this being under means nothing else than being submitted and subjected to him.
 “O man,” says S. Bernard, “it is in thy power if thou wilt to bring thy enemy to be thy servant so that all things may go well with thee; thy appetite is under thee and thou shalt domineer over it. Thy enemy can move in thee the feeling of temptation, but it is in thy power if thou wilt to give or refuse consent. In case thou permit thy appetite to carry thee away to sin, then thou shalt be under it, and it shall domineer over thee, for whosoever sinneth is made the servant of sin, but before thou sinnest, so long as sin gets not entry into thy consent, but only into thy sense, that is to say, so long as it stays in the appetite, not going so far as thy will, thy appetite is subject unto thee and thou lord over it.”
Before the Emperor is created he is subject to the electors’ dominion, in whose hands it is to reject him or to elect him to the imperial dignity; but being once elected and elevated by their means, henceforth they are under him and he rules over them. Before the will consents to the appetite, she rules over it, but having once given consent she becomes its slave. To conclude, this sensual appetite in plain truth is a rebellious subject, seditious, restive, and we must confess we cannot so defeat it that it does not rise again, encounter and assault the reason; yet the will has such a strong hand over it that she is able, if she please, to bridle it, break its designs and repulse it, since not to consent to its suggestions is a sufficient repulse.
We cannot hinder concupiscence from conceiving, but we can from bringing forth and accomplishing, sin. Now this concupiscence or sensual appetite has twelve movements, by which as by so many mutinous captains it raises sedition in man. And because ordinarily they trouble the soul and disquiet the body; insomuch as they trouble the soul, they are called perturbations, insomuch as they disquiet the body they are named passions, as S. Augustine declares. They all place before themselves good or evil, the former to obtain, the latter to avoid. If good be considered in itself according to its natural goodness it excites love, the first and principal passion; if good be regarded as absent it provokes us to desire; if being desired we think we are able to obtain it we enter into hope; if we think we cannot obtain it we feel despair; but when we possess it as present, it moves us to joy.
On the contrary, as soon as we discover evil we hate it, if it be absent we fly it, if we cannot avoid it we fear it; if we think we can avoid it we grow bold and courageous, but if we feel it as present we grieve; and then anger and wrath suddenly rush forth to reject and repel the evil or at least to take vengeance for it. If we cannot succeed we remain in grief. But if we repulse or avenge it we feel satisfaction and satiation, which is a pleasure of triumph, for as the possession of good gladdens the heart, so the victory over evil exalts the spirits.
And over all this multitude of sensual passions the will bears empire, rejecting their suggestions, repulsing their attacks, hindering their effects, or at the very least sternly refusing them consent, without which they can never harm us, and by refusing which they remain vanquished, yea in the long run broken down, weakened, worn out, beaten down, and if not altogether dead, at least deadened or mortified. And Theotimus, this multitude of passions is permitted to reside in our soul for the exercise of our will in virtue and spiritual valour; insomuch that the Stoics who denied that passions were found in wise men greatly erred, and so much the more because they practised in deeds what in words they denied, as S. Augustine shows, recounting this agreeable history.
Aulus Gellius having gone on sea with a famous Stoic, a great tempest arose, at which the Stoic being frightened began to grow pale, to blench and to tremble so sensibly that all in the boat perceived it, and watched him curiously, although they were in the same hazard with him. In the meantime the sea grew calm, the danger passed, and safety restoring to each the liberty to talk and even to rally one another, a certain voluptuous Asiatic reproached him with his fear, which had made him aghast and pale at the danger, whereas the other on the contrary had remained firm and without fear.
To this the Stoic replied by relating what Aristippus, a Socratic philosopher, had answered a man, who for the same reason had attacked him with the like reproach; saying to him: As for thee, thou hadst no reason to be troubled for the soul of a wicked rascal: but I should have done myself wrong not to have feared to lose the life of an Aristippus. And the value of the story is, that Aulus Gellius, an eye-witness, relates it. But as to the Stoic’s reply contained therein, it did more commend his wit than his cause, since bringing forward this comrade in his fear, he left it proved by two irreproachable witnesses, that Stoics were touched with fear, and with the fear which shows its effects in the eyes, face and behaviour, and is consequently a passion.
 A great folly, to wish to be wise with an impossible wisdom Truly the Church has condemned the folly of that wisdom which certain presumptuous Anchorites would formally have introduced, against which the whole Scripture but especially the great Apostle, cries out: We have a law in our body which resisteth the law of our mind.  “Amongst us Christians,” says the great S. Augustine, “according to holy Scripture and sound doctrine, the citizens of the sacred city of Gods living according to God, in the pilgrimage of this world fear, desire, grieve, rejoice.”
Yea even the sovereign King of this city has feared, desired, has grieved and rejoiced, even to tears, wanness, trembling, sweating of blood; though in him as these were not the motions of passions like ours, the great S. Jerome, and after him the School durst not use the name, passions, for reverence of the person in whom they were, but the respectful name, pro-passions.
This was to testify that sensible movements in Our Saviour held the place of passions, though they were not such indeed, seeing that he suffered or endured nothing from them except what seemed good to him and as he pleased, which we sinners cannot do, who suffer and endure these motions with disorder, against our wills, to the great prejudice of the good estate and polity of our soul.

The Temptation in the Desert – St. Vincent Ferrer

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).

On  Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving – St. Vincent Ferrer

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…”


   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).


   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.