Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

The natural inclination of the soul is to rise up towards God.  That natural motion is hindered by all sorts of distractions, temptations, and sin.  The external activity we engage in that does not produce the fruits of Charity prevents the soul from rising to God.  The internal activity of anxiety, comparison with others, judgments and anger are like lead to the soul.  For this reason, when Jesus teaches us about prayer He wants us to be alone and shut out everything else.  It’s nice to pray in a church, but not always very solitary – even if you are alone, it is still a public place.  Choosing a place where you are truly alone and solitary may in fact be preferable.


Let your love take note, my brothers, how the symbolic event agrees point by point with its fulfillment. Elijah came to the river Jordan, and having laid aside his cloak, he struck the waters and divided them. The Lord came to the stream of death, in which the human race ordinarily was immersed, and laying aside from himself for a time the clothing of flesh that he had assumed, struck down death by dying and opened up for us the way to life by rising. The change and decline of our mortal life is properly represented by the river Jordan, since the meaning of Jordan in Latin is “their descent,” and since as the river flows into the Dead Sea, it loses its praiseworthy waters. After [the water of the river] Jordan was divided, Elijah and Elisha crossed over on dry land; by his rising from the dead the Savior bestowed on his faithful ones the hope of rising too. After they had crossed over the river Jordan, Elijah gave Elisha the option of asking for what he wanted. The Lord too, after the glory of his resurrection had been fulfilled, implanted in his disciples a fuller comprehension of what he had promised previously, that “whatever you ask in my name, I will do [for you].” Elisha asked that the spirit of Elijah might become double in him. The disciples, thoroughly instructed by the Lord, desired to receive the promised gift of the Spirit, which would make them capable of preaching not only to the single nation of Judah, which he himself taught when he was present in the flesh, but to all countries throughout the globe as well. Did he not pledge the double grace of his Spirit when he said, “A person who believes in me will himself also do the works that I do, and he will do even greater ones than these”? As Elijah and Elisha were conversing together, a chariot with fiery horses suddenly snatched Elijah as if into heaven. By the chariot and fiery horses we are to understand the angelic powers, of whom it is written, “He makes the angels his spirits and his ministers a burning fire” (Elijah, being an ordinary human being, had need of them to be raised up from the earth). The Lord too was suddenly taken up as he was speaking with his apostles and as they were looking on; although he was not assisted by the help of angels, he was served by an angelic band of companions. He was truly assumed into heaven with the angels also bearing witness to it, for they said [to the apostles], “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven.” When Elijah was raised up to the heavens, he let the cloak with which he had been clothed fall to Elisha. When our Lord ascended into heaven, he left the mysteries of the humanity he had assumed to his disciples, to the entire church in fact, so that it could be sanctified by them and warmed by the power of his love. Elisha took up Elijah’s cloak and struck the waters of the river Jordan with it; and when he called on the God of Elijah, [the waters] were divided, and he crossed over. The apostles and the entire church took up the sacraments of their Redeemer that had been instituted through the apostles, so that, spiritually guided by them and cleansed and consecrated by them, they too learned to overcome death’s assaults by calling on the name of God the Father and to cross over to undying life, spurning the obstacles of death.1


A burdened stomach drags down the heart toward vices and depresses the mind to keep it unable to experience heavenly piety. Scripture tells us, “The corruptible body is a load on the soul, and the earthly habitation presses down the mind that muses on many things.” Hence, the Lord said, too, “Take heed lest your hearts be overburdened with self-indulgence and drunkenness.” Therefore, the stomach should be relieved by the tempering influence of a fast, so that the mind can be unburdened and attend to higher things, rise to virtues and like a winged bird fly in its entirety to the very Author of piety. The case of Elijah proves this. Relieved of bodily weight by continuing that fast that the Lord arranged, he flew to heaven as victor over death.2


You who have offered nothing to God, what do you expect to receive from God? Everything done on account of God is given to God and received by God. But what is done to be seen by others is poured into the wind.… What is human praise but the sound of the whistling winds?… Those who act on account of others, to be praised by them, have wasted their energy. What sort of wisdom is it to put on a show and to prepare empty speeches? Those who do so scorn the treasure of God waiting in eternity in heaven, preferring fleeting human words. It is better to do nothing than to act to be seen. For those who do nothing, even if they do not enter heaven, at least squander nothing on earth. But those who act to be seen by others not only fail to enter heaven but also earn pitiably little on earth.3


Every act or speech through which one boasts in good works is like a trumpet. Consider one who performs an act of kindness when he sees someone present but does not do so when no one is there. He is like a trumpet, because through this act his boasting is broadcast. Likewise, consider one who performs an act of kindness when someone asks him to do so but does not do it when no one asks. This bad habit is a trumpet. Again, consider one who gives something of value to an upper-class person, should he see one, a person who is able to reciprocate. But to the lowly and to the poor chained by sufferings, he gives nothing. This too is a trumpet, even if he acted in secret, as long as he did it to seem praiseworthy (first, because he did it; second, because he did it secretly). The very act of concealment trumpets his charity. Whatever this man did, thanks to which he stands out or desires to stand out … that is a trumpet. The very act of kindness, although it actually happened, trumpets itself. Therefore it is not so much the place or the act, but rather the intention, that is to be kept secret.4


When you pray, it is as if you were entering into a palace—not a palace on earth, but far more awesome, a palace in heaven. When you enter there, you do so with complete attentiveness and fitting respect. For in the houses of kings all turmoil is set aside, and silence reigns. Yet here you are being joined by choirs of angels. You are in communion with archangels and singing with the seraphim, who sing with great awe their spiritual hymns and sacred songs to God, the Lord of all. So when you are praying, mingle with these voices, patterning yourself according to their mystical order. It is not to human beings that you are praying but to God, who is present everywhere, who hears even before you speak and who knows already the secrets of the heart. If you pray to this One, you shall receive a great reward. “For your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.” He did not merely say he would give it to you but reward you, as if he himself had made a pledge to you and so honored you with a great honor. Because God himself is hidden, your prayer should be hidden.5


We are asked to pray with the bedroom door closed, as it were, and we are taught to pour out our prayer in every place. The saints’ prayers were undertaken in the presence of wild animals, in prisons, in flames, from the depths of the sea and the belly of the beast. Hence we are admonished not to enter the recesses of our homes but the bedroom of our hearts. With the office of our minds closed, we pray to God not with many words but with our conscience, for every act is superior to the words of speakers.6


Outside the inner chamber are all things in time and space, which knock on the door. Through our bodily senses they clamor to interrupt our prayer, so that prayer is invaded with a crowd of vain phantoms. This is why you must shut the door. The senses of the body are resisted, that the spirit of prayer may be directed to the Father. This occurs in the inmost heart, where prayer is offered to the Father in secret. There “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” This is a fitting conclusion to good counsel, not merely calling us to pray but also showing us how, not merely calling us to give alms but also showing the right spirit for doing so. The instruction is to cleanse the heart. Nothing cleanses the heart but the undivided and single-minded striving after eternal life from the pure love of wisdom alone.7


  1. HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 2.15. Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (pp. 144–145). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. SERMON 2. Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (p. 145). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 13. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 124). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 13. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 124). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 19.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 126–127). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. ON MATTHEW 5.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 127–128). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  7. SERMON ON THE MOUNT 2.3.11. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 128). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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