The Venerable Bede: The Church at sea, the Lord on the land

From today’s (Saturday after Ash Wednesday) Matins reading (1960 edition):

Bede the Venerable on today’s Gospel: And when it was late, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and himself alone on the land. And seeing them labouring in rowing, (for the wind was against them,) and about the fourth watch of the night, he cometh to them walking upon the sea.

Again, my own translation:

The disciples’ labor at their rowing, and the wind against them, means the various labors of the holy Church, who attempts, among the waves of a hostile world and the breath of impure spirits, to reach the calm of the heavenly homeland like to a trusted harbor on the shore.  So it is well said there that the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He was alone on the land: since often the Church is not only afflicted but even defiled by the pressures of the pagan peoples so much that – if such a thing be possible! – her Redeemer seems for a time to have utterly deserted her.

This is the reason for that saying of her who is caught among the waves and storms of trials breaking upon her, and seeking the aid of His protection with a groaning cry: Why, O Lord, have you withdrawn so far away?  Why do you look away in times of trial?  Then she relates the saying of her persecuting enemy as well, adding in the continuation of the Psalm: For he said in his heart, “God has forgotten; He has turned away His face, He will not see it again.”

But He does not forget the prayer of the poor, nor does He turn away His face from those who hope in Him: nay, rather, He assists those who strive against their foes, that they might conquer, and He crowns them as victors forever.  That is why this also is clearly said, that He saw them laboring at their rowing.  The Lord certainly does see them laboring on the sea, though He Himself is situated on the land: since even if He seems for a while to delay expending his aid on those who are troubled, nonetheless He is strengthening them by the gaze of His kindness, so that they do not fail in their trials: and eventually, revealing His aid and conquering their adversities, He frees them like by treading upon the swells of the surges and calming them.

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Augustine on hypocritical fasting

From today’s (Ash Wednesday’s) Matins reading (in the 1960 edition):

Augustine’s commentary on today’s Gospel: And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.

My own translation – a little freer than I usually like, but the only way to produce a good English version of the Latin.

From these commands it is obvious that all our focus should be directed towards interior joys, lest by seeking outside for our reward we conform to this world and lose the promise of happiness – which is more stable and firm the more interior it is – by which God chose us to become conformed to the image of his Son.

But in this passage we should especially notice that one can be ostentatious not only in the splendid display of material things, but even in mournful drabness itself; and that is more dangerous, for it deceives in the guise of servitude to God.

So the one who shows off in excessively cultivating his body and in splendid clothing or other things is easily convicted as a devotee of the world by those same ostentatious things, and he does not mislead anyone with his fake image of holiness.

But the one who, in professing his Christianity, makes others’ eyes focus on himself by his unaccustomed squalor and mournfulness – when he does it by will, not undergoing it out of necessity – he can be appraised by his other deeds: is he doing this out of contempt for gratuitous cultivation, or out of some kind of ambition?

For the Lord commanded us to beware wolves in sheep’s clothing.  By their fruits you shall know them, he said.

So when the very things which, under this disguise, he either is pursuing or wants to pursue start to be taken away or denied him by some kind of trial, then it will inevitably appear whether he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a sheep in its own.

For if it is true that pretenders often assume a spare and minimal attire so as to deceive the gullible, a Christian should not on that account entice others’ attention with gratuitous adornments.  The sheep should not abandon their native clothing just because wolves sometimes dress themselves in it.

(St. Augustine, The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount II.12.40-41)