Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sketch by Brie Schulze

In the conferences of John Cassian, there is a very important discussion about this virtue called “discretion.”  It has to do with the monk’s ability to make a good discernment about what is the right course to take for someone who lives a radical life of psalmody, prayer, and work.  When should I relax my normal rule of fasting?  Should I follow what I am told to do by visions?  Should I provide hospitality or seek greater solitude?  If we look at the history of the development of Eastern monasticism we see a progression from certain inimitable examples of holiness and miraculous lives to the structures of cenobitism.  Giving in to following austere practices that seemed synonymous with greater holiness was perhaps – at that time – an even greater risk than following a less severe and sometimes mediocre way.  The prudence of a monk must incorporate the need for an austerity which says that I must live today as though it were my last day, and also as though I would have to live the same every day, over and over again, until I am 100.  Between sleeping on the floor and sleeping on a great mattress, there is monastic discretion.  Between eating three meals a day and eating once a week, there is monastic discretion.

The light of discernment that Jesus talks to us about in today’s Gospel is similar in that – even if we are not monks – we are given greater light to live our human lives.  Every human being is born with that divine spark that makes them the image of God.  Prudence uses that light to bring order into our lives for the sake of the good that makes us truly happy.  A Christian receives a new end and a higher happiness because of the gift of God’s grace.  This is Divine life itself, and what Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes.  A Christian must discover how to see, in faith, the new light they have been given so as to rise higher than the light of ordinary human prudence.  The two are never opposed, but human prudence would never suggest we act the way grace sometimes does.  Compared to grace, human prudence is darkness.  Let us therefore open the widow of our soul to receive in our minds the True Light.


Athaliah exterminated all the royal children. In fact, after her son had been killed by Jehu, she had conceived an extremely perfidious and vicious scheme, saying to herself with anger, “I will reign just the same against the will of God by fighting God’s promises, and I will make the posterity of David’s house perish, as the descendants of my father’s house have perished and have been exterminated.” That scheme resembled the treachery that Satan plotted at the beginning against the chief of our race. However, her scheme was not accomplished, but after seven years the kingdom returned to the family of David, thanks to a righteous man, Jehoiada, the husband of Jehosheba, Joram’s daughter, who had brought up Joash, son of Ahaziah.1


If someone does something with the intent of gaining earthly profit, that one’s heart is upon the earth. How can a heart be clean while it is wallowing in the mud? On the other hand, if it be fastened upon heaven it will be clean, for whatever is heavenly is unpolluted. A thing becomes defiled if it is mixed with a baser substance, even though that other substance be not vile in its own nature. Gold, for example, is debased by pure silver if mixed with it. So also is our mind defiled by a desire for the things of earth, although the earth itself is pure in its own class and in its own order.2


Now Christ leads us to an analogy more within the reach of our senses, that we may not be confused. He has already spoken of the mind as enslaved in captivity. Now he shifts his attention to the eye and to lessons on outward things lying directly before our eyes, so that we might grasp it easily and that we may learn from the body what we did not learn from the mind. For what the mind is to the soul, the eye is to the body.3


We know that all our works are pure and pleasing in the sight of God if they are performed with a single heart. This means that they are performed out of charity and with an intention that is fixed on heaven. For “love is the fulfillment of the law.” Therefore in this passage we ought to understand the eye as the intention with which we perform all our actions. If this intention is pure and upright and directing its gaze where it ought to be directed, then unfailingly all our works are good works, because they are performed in accordance with that intention. And by the expression “whole body,” Christ designated all those works that he reproves and that he commands us to put to death. For the apostle also designates certain works as our “members.” “Therefore,” Paul writes, “mortify your members which are on earth: fornication, uncleanness, covetousness,” and all other such things.4


If your eyes were completely blind, would you choose to wear gold and silk? Wouldn’t you consider your sound health to be more desirable than mere externals? For if you should lose your health or waste it, all the rest of your life would be unhappily affected. For just as when the eyes are blinded, some of the ability of the other members is diminished, their light being quenched, so also when the mind is depraved, your life will be filled with countless evils. As therefore in the body it is our aim to keep the eye sound, so also it should be our aim to keep the mind sound in relation to the soul. But if we destroy this, which ought to give light to the rest, by what means are we to see clearly any more? For as he who destroys the spring may also dry up the river, so he who has quenched the understanding may have confounded all his actions in this life. So it is said, “If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is the darkness?” For when the pilot is drowned, when the candle is put out, when the general is taken prisoner, what sort of hope will remain for those that are under his command?5


  1. BOOKS OF SESSIONS 2 KINGS 11.1.  Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (p. 192). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. SERMON ON THE MOUNT 2.13.44.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 141–142). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 20.3.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 142). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. SERMON ON THE MOUNT 2.13.45.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 142). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 20.3.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 142). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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