Today’s post is admittedly long, but worth reading. I enjoyed this sermon on fasting and almsgiving so much, that I have decided to share a large excerpt of it as today’s post. Read, be inspired to undertake a fast of simplicity in the fortress of your heart, and store up your treasures in heaven to show you believe, lest you too, like too many, be found a hypocrite. God, help us be found faithful.
“Whoever flees hypocrisy conquers; whoever runs into it does not escape. Let us flee hypocrisy, let us flee it, my brothers. May ours be the fast of simplicity; may it be holy from our innocence, pure from our purity, sincere from our sincerity. May it be hidden from people, unknown to the devil but known to God. Whoever does not hide his treasure flaunts it; virtues that are flaunted will not remain. Just as virtues desert those who flaunt them, so they work hard at shielding those who shield them. Therefore, fasting, which is the first virtue against vices, should be placed in the fortress of our heart, since, so long as it presides within us, vices will not be able to disturb us from without.
In order for a Christian to be able to possess it, this is what Christ urges when He says, “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, in order not to be seen fasting by others, but only by your Father who is hidden; and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you (Matthew 6:17-18). When He says, Anoint your head and wash your face, the master is not enjoining His servants to have the hair of their heads saturated with seductive ointment, nor does He want their faces to gleam with habitual washings, but He does want a Christian to hide the fact that he is fasting by looking as he does when he is eating, and since he does not want Christian fasting to be characterized by an artificial sadness. But let us resume what we have begun.
Anoint your head and wash your face (v. 17). He is not hereby endorsing sensuous appearances, but is prohibiting looks that are pretended. A face downcast in sadness professes a hunger against one’s will, not a voluntary fast. If a person is willing, why the sadness? If unwilling, why the fast? One deserves to live in such pain who creates for himself a vice out of a virtue, a lie out of truth, a loss out of gain, a sin out of forgiveness. If the farmer does not push the plow, if he does not dig a furrow, if he does not cut down the briars, if he does not root out the grass, if he does not place seeds in the earth, he deceives himself, not the earth; he does no harm to the earth, but he produces no harvest for himself. And if the one who deceives the earth with his fraudulent and empty hand so deprives, so cheats, and so attacks himself, what will one do, what will he have, what will he find who lies to God with his flesh starving but brimming over with hypocrisy?
And since we have made mention of the farmer, let him know that he engages in an empty labor and he will have nothing if he pushes the plow of fasting, plucks out the weeks of gluttony, and roots out the briars of luxury, but sows no seeds of mercy. This is what the Lord wanted to reveal when during His teaching on fasting He added these words: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where robbers break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust consumes, where thieves do not break in and steal (vv. 19-20).
How fatherly, how deeply rooted in love, what a far-seeing counsel of charity! He wants you to lose nothing, he who wants your property to be stored in heavenly treasure chests. How securely does one sleep who has deserved to have God as guardian of his goods! How liberated from care is he, how much anxiety has he cast aside, how tranquil is he, what arrogance from his slaves does he avoid by entrusting his goods to be kept safe by his Father. Paternal affection preserves goods in a way that servile fear cannot. The Father who gives his own goods to his sons does not embezzle what the sons have entrusted. He does not know what a father is nor that he is a son who does not believe his father.
Door-bolts do not shut moths out but shut them in. They produce them rather than repel them. Things kept in storage invite rust rather than prevent it. For what takes its origin from the thing itself is unavoidable. Where there is need, thieves cannot but be present. Therefore, whoever deposits his goods amidst moths, rust, and thieves exposes his goods instead of protecting them. Just as a moth originates from clothes, rust from metal, and a thief from need, so avarice arises out of wealth, covetousness out of acquisition, greed out of having possessions.
So, let whoever wants to conquer avarice, to stamp out covetousness, to extinguish the burning fire of greed, give away his wealth and not store it up. Brothers, let us send our treasure chests ahead of us to heaven. The poor are the transports who in their lap can carry to the heavens what is ours. Let no one have any hesitation about the qualifications of these porters. Safe this is, this transportation through which our goods are carried to God with God as the guarantor.”
Peter Chrysologus (c. 380 – c. 450) in Sermon 7.3-5 in St Peter Chrysologus: Selected Sermons Volume 2 (The Fathers of the Church-A New Translation; Washington D.C.; CAUP, 2004) 37-39.