7. Thou shalt make a candlestick of beaten work of the finest gold: and the branches, the cups and the bowls and the lilies going forth from it. Six branches shall come out of the sides, three out of the one side and three out of the other. (Ex 25,31-32)

Thou shalt make a candlestick, etc. Matthew 5 says:

They do not light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.(Mt 5,15)

The grace of the Holy Spirit, a burning and shining light, was placed upon a candlestick, namely blessed Stephen; as Zechariah 4 says:

I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, and its lamp upon the top of it. (Za 4,2)

This lamp, or candle, was not put under a bushel, worldly wealth, but gave light to all who were in the house, the Church. So Luke says in today’s reading:

Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people. (Ac 6,8)

This candlestick was ‘of finest gold’, referring to the gold of his poverty. At that time, as Genesis 2 says, the gold of that land (Hevilath, meaning ‘bringing forth’), the primitive Church, was the very finest (Gn 2,12). But alas! It is turned to rubbish! It was ‘beaten’, fashioned by hammer-blows. Blessed Stephen was shaped and fashioned by the striking stones, like hammer-blows, so as to embrace his enemies. So it says:

They stoned Stephen, who cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. (Ac 7,58-9)

There is a concordance to this in II Kings 21:

They brought forth Naboth the Jezreelite without the city, and stoned him to death, (1R 21,13)

because he would not let his vineyard, the inheritance of his fathers, be turned into a garden of herbs. Blessed Stephen was stoned in the same way: they cast him out of the city and stoned him, because he withstood the Jews who wanted to turn the primitive

Church into a herb-garden, for the observance of ceremonies and their traditions.

8. There follows: Six branches shall come out of the sides, three out of the one side and three out of the other. The six branches of the candlestick denote six qualities of blessed Stephen, mentioned in the reading of today’s Mass. These are: faith, as it is said: They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Ac 6,5), wherein it is noted that his faith was living and well-formed; grace and fortitude, as is added: Full of grace and fortitude (Ac 6,8); wisdom and boldness in preaching: They were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke (Ac 6,10), and again: You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart, etc. (Ac 7,51); prayer for those stoning him, when he said; Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. He lived by faith, he grew strong by grace, he resisted by fortitude, he taught by wisdom, he refuted by boldness of spirit, he aided by prayer.

On these branches were cups, bowls and lilies. The hollowness of a cup represents humility of heart; the round bowls are care for one’s brother’s needs; the lilies are purity of body. See the gold candlestick in the tabernacle of the Lord, lighting the table of proposition, the Church or the faithful soul: Stephen the first martyr, decked with virtues, garlanded with his blood, triumphant in heaven. May his prayers lead us to eternal joys, and may he be blessed for ever and ever. Amen.


9. Thou shalt make a candlestick of beaten work of the finest gold. The candlestick stands for any faithful soul. The Lord spoke to Aaron of it in Numbers 8:

When thou shalt place the seven lamps, let the candlestick be set up on the south side, that the lamps look over against the north, towards the table of the loaves of proposition. (Nb 8,2)

The seven lamps are the grace of the Holy Spirit, faith in the Word Incarnate, love of neighbour, the teaching of the divine word, the light of good example, a right intention of the mind, and constancy in resolution.

Of the first, Job 29 says:

His lamp shined over my head, and I walked by his light in darkness. (Jb 29,3)

The light shines on the head when grace illuminates the mind, and then he sees clearly, amid the shadows of this present exile, where to put the ‘foot’ of action.

Of the second, Luke 15 says:

What woman having ten groats, if she lose one groat, doth not light a candle and sweep the house and seek diligently until she find it? (Lc 15,8)

The nine groats are the nine orders of angels; the tenth is Adam and his posterity, which were lost when he was cast out of paradise. But the ‘woman’, the Wisdom of God the Father, ‘lit a candle’ when he placed the light of his divinity into the frail clay of our humanity. And so he ‘swept the house’, the world and the underworld, until he found it.

Of the third, Proverbs 6 says:

The commandment is a lamp, and the law a light,

and reproofs of instruction are the way of life. (Pr 6,23)

A new commandment I give you, that you love one another (Jn 13,34); that is the lamp. And 1 John 2:

He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, but he that hateth is in dakness.(1Jn 2,10-11)

The very light of love, on which all the Law and the prophets depend, is ‘the light’. And reproofs of instruction are the way of life, that is, to life. The Apostle says in Hebrews 12:

All chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy but sorrow (that is the reproof’); but afterwards it will yield to them that are exercised by it the most peaceable fruits of justice (that is ‘the way of life’). (He 12,11)

Of the fourth, the Psalm says:

Thy word is a lamp to my feet, (Ps 118,105)

and the second Epistle of Peter:

And we have the more firm prophetical word; whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in your hearts. (2P 1,19)

Of the fifth, Luke says:

Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands. (Lc 12,35)

St Gregory4 says: "We have lamps burning in our hands when by good deeds we show examples of light to our neighbours."

Of the sixth, Matthew says:

The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. (Mt 6,22)

The eye is our intention, the body is our work. If our intention is simple, that is, without deviousness and deceit, our whole work will be lightsome, because it will be illumined by the lamp of right intention.

Of the seventh, Proverbs says in the last chapter, about the strong woman:

Her lamp shall not be put out in the night. (Pr 31,1)

This is as though to say, the darkness of the devil’s temptation will not put out the light of the constant soul.

These seven ‘lamps’ should be set upon the soul, so that they may ‘look over against the north’, opposing the region of the devil, so that the soul illumined by them may see the snares of Satan and beware of them. They should also illuminate the ‘table of the loaves of proposition’, representing the outward demeanour of any faithful soul; from which, if the food of the soul be heavenly, it is set before all, being illuminated by the aforesaid lamps in the darkness of our present blindness.

And note that the Lord commands that this ‘candlestick’ be set up on the south side, not the west. The south side represents eternal life; as Habbakuk says, God will come from the south (Ha 3,3). When the soul of any faithful sets itself to do something good, it ‘sets itself up on the south side’, so that whatever it does, it does not for empty show but for heavenly glory. So, thou shalt make a candlestick.

10. There follows: ‘of beaten work’. The soul is shaped and fashioned with the hammer of contrition into the love of the Redeemer; it grows by blows, it stretches itself by sorrow, because "Patience rejoices in hard things."5 There is something similar in Ecclesiasticus 20:

A wise man shall advance himself with his words. (Si 20,29)

When he strikes himself with the word of self-accusation or confession, he advances himself in the love of God.

And because by the striking of contrition he comes to cleanness of heart, there is added, ‘of finest gold’. Apocalypse 21 says of this:

The city itself pure gold, like to clear glass. (Ap 21,18)

The soul of the just, the seat or city of wisdom, is called ‘pure gold’ because of its outstanding purity of thought; and if at some time (from the frailty of the human condition)

it receives something soiled, it immediately shows it in confession, like clear glass, and so it goes forward to the love of God and neighbour.

So there follows: Six branches shall come out of the sides, etc. The six branches of the candlestick are as it were the arms of love in the just man, with which the soul embraces God and neighbour. Of the arms with which it embraces God, Deuteronomy 6 and Luke 10 say: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength (Dt 6,5 Lc 10,27). Augustine6 puts and explains it like this: "With all your heart, that is, by understanding without error; with all your mind, that is, by memory without forgetfulness; with all your soul, that is, by will without opposition."

The arms with which the soul embraces neighbour are these: forgiving the sinner, correcting the wanderer, feeding the hungry. From these proceed cups, bowls and lilies. The ‘cup’ is the grace of heavenly doctrine, from which friends drink and dearest friends are inebriated. This is the silver cup of Joseph, placed in the sack of Benjamin (cf. Gn 44,2 Gn 44,12), the heart of the just man. The bowl is the turning over of sin in confession; so Isaiah says:

Take a harp, (i.e. confession)

go about the city, (your mind or life, turning over everything, that nothing be hid) sing well, (accusing yourself)

sing many a song, (blaming yourself and weeping for yourself)

that thou mayest be remembered. (in God’s sight) (Is 23,16)

The minstrel sings at the rich man’s door, so as to receive some reward. The lilies represent the clear and sweet dwelling together in angelic blessedness. The beloved feeds among the lilies (Ct 2,16), saying in Apocalypse 3: He that shall overcome shall be clothed in white garments (Ap 3,5). The Angel of the Resurrection appeared clad in a white robe; may he himself lead us to receive that robe, who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.

1 LUCAN, Civil War, IX,403
2 cf. FULGENTIUS, Sermo 3,1; PL 65.729-30
3 AUGUSTINE, Confessiones VII,7; PL 32.740
4 GREGORY, In evangelia Homilia 13,1; PL 76.1124
5 LUCAN, Civil War, IX, 403
6 AUGUSTINE, quoted in GLOSS on Mt 22.37, and by P. LOMBARD, Sententiae dist 27,5

The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury


1. At that time: Jesus said to Peter: Follow me, etc. (Jn 21,19)

There are two things noted in this Gospel, the imitation of Christ and his love for his faithful.


2. The imitation of Christ: Follow me. He said this to Peter; he says it also to each and every Christian: Follow me, naked after the naked, swiftly after the swift. So Jeremiah 3 says:

Thou shalt call me father, and shalt not cease to walk alter me. (Jr 3,19)

Therefore, follow me, "put down your pack; for you cannot follow me as I run if you are burdened."1 I ran in thirst (Ps 61,5), he says, namely for human salvation. Where did he run? To the Cross. Do you run after him, that as he did on your behalf, so you may bear your cross for yourself. So Luke 9 says:

If any man will come alter me, let him deny himself (in renouncing his own will), and take up his cross (in mortifying the flesh), daily (i.e. continually), and so follow me. (Lc 9,23).

So, then, follow me.

Alternatively, if you desire to come to me and find me, follow me- that is, seek me apart. So he says to the disciples in Mark 6:

Come apart into a desert place and rest a little. For there were many coming and going;

and they had not so much as time to eat. (Mc 6,31)

Alas! How many carnal affections and clamorous thoughts come and go through our heart, so that we have no time to eat the bread of eternal sweetness, for savouring interior contemplation. And so the kindly Master says, Come apart from the jostling crowd, into a desert place, the solitude of mind and body, and rest a little. Truly ‘a little’, for as is said in Apocalypse 8:

There was silence in heaven, as it were for half an hour. (Ap 8,1)

Who will give me wings like a dove, etc. (Ps 54,7)

So Hosea 2 says:

Behold, I will allure her and will lead her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart. (Os 2,14)

Note that in these three words, a three-fold status is denoted: of beginners, of proficients and of perfect. He allures the beginner when he enlightens him with grace, that he may grow and progress from virtue to virtue; then he leads him from the clamour and tumult of vices and thoughts into the desert of inner quiet; and there, being now perfect, he speaks to his heart. This comes about when he feels the sweetness of divine inspiration and is totally suspended in joy of mind. "O how great then is the magnitude of devotion, wonder and rejoicing in his heart! He is raised up above himself by the greatness of devotion, he is led above himself by the greatness of wonder, and he is beside himself in the greatness of joy."2 Follow me, then.

He speaks after the fashion of a loving mother who, to teach her child to walk, shows it a piece of bread or an apple: "Come to me, and I will give it to you." When the child gets near enough, almost, to take it, the mother withdraws a little, and holds it out, and as she proffers it says: "Follow me, if you want to get it." Some birds, too, draw their chicks out of the nest, and by their own flight teach them to fly and follow them. So Christ, to get us to follow him, puts himself as an example and promises a reward in the Kingdom.

3. Follow me, then, because I know the good way, by which I will lead you. Proverbs 4 says of it:

I will shew thee the way of wisdom; I will lead thee by the paths of equity, which when thou shalt have entered, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest thou shalt not meet a stumbling-block. (Pr 4,11-12)

The way of wisdom is the way of humility; every other is the way of foolishness, the way of pride. He showed us this way when he said: Learn of me, etc. (Mt 11,29). A path is narrow, scarcely wide enough for one to pass another on their two feet; it is only half a road! The ‘paths of equity’ are poverty and obedience, by which the poor and obedient Christ leads you by his example. There is no twisting and turning, all is plain and direct; yet, wonder of wonders! Though it is so narrow, our footsteps are not constricted in them. The way of the world is wide and spacious, yet like drunkards, can never find their way along it. To a drunkard, wide is all the same as narrow! Ill-will makes narrow; poverty and obedience, precisely because they constrict, give liberty. Poverty makes us rich, obedience makes us free. He who runs after Jesus in these paths will not meet the stumbling-block of riches, or of self-will.

Follow me, then; and I will show you what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man (1Co 4,9). Follow me, and as Isaiah 45 and 60 says:

I will give thee hidden treasures and the concealed riches of secret places. (Is 45,3)

Then thou shalt see and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged. (Is 60,5)

You will see God face to face, just as he is (cf. 1Co 13,12 1Jn 3,2). You will abound with the delights and riches of the double robe of soul and body. Your heart will wonder at the choirs of angels and the mansions of the blessed, and so it will be enlarged from joy, in the voice of rejoicing and praise. Follow me, then.


4. Christ’s love for his faithful: Peter turning. He who follows Christ truly, desires that all should follow him; and so he turns to his neighbour with a solicitous mind, with devout prayer and with preaching of the word. The ‘turning’ of Peter signifies all this. And there is a concordance in the last chapter of the Apocalypse:

The Bridegroom and the Bride (that is, Christ and the Church) say: "Come". And he that heareth, let him say: "Come". (Ap 22,17)

Christ by inspiration, and the Church by preaching, say to a man, "Come". And he who hears them should say to his neighbour, "Come," that is, "Follow Jesus."

So, Peter, turning about, saw that disciple whom Jesus loved, following (Jn 21,20). Jesus loves the one who follows him; whence he says in Numbers 14:

My servant Caleb, ...who hath followed me, I will bring into this land which he hath gone round, and his seed shall possess it. (Nb 14,24)

He whom Jesus loved; the Gloss says, "Though his name is not mentioned, John is in

this way distinguished from the others, not because he loved him alone, but because he loved him more than the rest." He loved the others too, but he was particularly close to him. "He gave him a more potent draught of his sweet love, for being a virgin when he was chosen by him, he remained a virgin; and so he entrusted his Mother to him."3 He, too, was the one who reclined upon his breast at the Supper. It was a great indication of love, that he alone reclined upon the breast of Jesus, in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2,3); in which was prefigured how great were the secrets of the divinity which he was to write of, more than the rest.

5. Note that Jacob reclined upon a stone, but John upon the breast of Jesus. The former was on a journey, the latter at supper. Jacob represents pilgrims, John the blessed. The former are on the way, the latter in their homeland. Genesis 28 says that when Jacob departed from Bersabee, he went on to Haran. When he wanted to rest, he laid his head upon a stone and slept. And in a dream he saw a ladder set up, and angels ascending and descending by it, and the Lord at the top of the ladder (cf. Gn 28,10-13). Jacob, the just man still on his pilgrimage, beset by many a struggle, departs from Bersabee (meaning ‘the seventh well’, worldly desire that has no end, just as the seventh day is said to be endless) and goes on to Haran (meaning ‘’high place’, that is, the heavenly Jerusalem). So he says with Habbakuk:

I will go up to our people that are girded, (Ha 3,16)

who have triumphed over the wicked world.

And because he desires to alleviate the labour of his pilgrimage, he lays his head on a stone and sleeps. The head is the mind, the stone is constancy of faith, the ladder set up is the two-fold charity, the angels are just men who go up to God by lifting up their minds, and go down to their neighbour in compassion of spirit. The just man who is a pilgrim, then, must rest by laying his mind upon constancy of faith. So Proverbs 30 says

The rabbit, a weak people, which maketh its bed in the rock. (Pr 30,26)

The rabbit is a timid animal, and represents the poor in spirit, who is weak against every injury, because he is timid; and so he makes the bed of his hope in the rock of faith, and there he rests and sleeps, and sees a ladder of charity set up in himself.

And note that the Lord is at the top of the ladder for two reasons: to hold it up and to welcome those who go up by it. He holds up the weight of our frailty, that we may be able to go up by works of charity. He welcomes those who go up, that with him, the Eternal and Blessed, we may be eternal and blessed. And then, in that supper of eternal satisfaction, we shall recline with John upon the breast of Jesus. His Heart is in his breast, love is in his Heart. We shall recline in his love, because we shall love him with all our heart and all our soul; and we shall find in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. O Love of Jesus! O treasure buried in love, wisdom of inexpressible savour, and knowledge that is recognition!

I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear. (Ps 16,15)

This is eternal life: that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. (Jn 17,3)

To him be praise and glory for ever and ever. Amen.


6. A large eagle with great wings, long-limbed, full of feathers and of variety, came to Libanus and took away the marrow of the cedar. (Ez 17,3)

This is in Ezekiel 12. The eagle, noted for the keenness of its vision, is blessed John, who, being raised above himself in subtle insight of mind, saw and told us of the only- begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, the Word who was in the beginning (cf. Jn 1,18 Jn 1,1). And we know that his testimony is true (Jn 21,24).

So Ezekiel 1 says of him:

There was the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right side, and the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle over all the four. (Ez 1,10)

The right stands for prosperity, the left for adversity. Matthew and Mark, who are represented by the man and the lion, were on the right side; they wrote of the Incarnation of Christ and his preaching, in which was our prosperity. Luke is represented by the ox, which used to be offered in sacrifice; he began with the priesthood and led the Christ-to- be-sacrificed towards the temple and the altar of the Cross, wherein was the adversity of the Passion. John is represented in the eagle, which flies higher than other birds, as he penetrated hidden things more deeply than the rest, and so is said to be ‘over all the four’. Yet it is strange that he is said to be ‘over all the four’, since he himself is one of the four: he is, then, over himself! Truly, he is ‘above himself’, because he spoke what is beyond man, and so is called ‘a large eagle with great wings’.

The Reading of today’s Mass, Ecclesiasticus 15, explains what the ‘great wings’ of this eagle are:

In the midst of the Church she has opened his mouth (Si 15,5)

This is what he himself says in Apocalypse 8:

And I beheld, and heard the voice of one eagle flying through the midst of heaven (Ap 8,13),

A reference to the Church, in whose midst (that is, commonly, to everyone) she opened his mouth.

And she filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding (Si 5,15)

These are the two great wings with which he flies even to the secrets of the Divinity, saying:

In the beginning was the Word, etc. (Jn 1,1)

7. He was, then, ‘long limbed’. The virtues are as it were the limbs of the soul, which are lengthened when they extend into works of charity. So what is said in the Reading of today’s Mass is concordant to this:

He that feareth God will do good:

and he that possesseth justice shall lay hold on her.

And she will meet him as an honourable mother:

and will receive him as a wife married from virginity. (Si 15,1-2)

Blessed John, who feared God with a chaste and filial fear, therefore did good, extending himself to works of charity. You will find this in a clearer light if you read his Epistle, in which he wrote most effectively about charity, as one who possessed it. He, too, began to do and to teach (Ac 1,1). He was a container of justice, because, as Ecclesiasticus 50 says, he was

As a massy vessel of gold, adorned with every precious stone. (Si 50,10)

And because he contained within himself justice (that is, the truth of the Gospel), he laid hold on her, that is, on her fruit.

The Lord said in the Gospel that whoever left father, mother or wife would receive an hundred-fold, etc. (Mt 19,29). Blessed John left mother and spouse for the Lord’s sake; and the Lord gave him no other mother but his own. So there is added: And she will meet him as an honourable mother. Blessed Mary, Mother of the Son of God, honoured with outstanding virtues and privileges of grace, came to meet John at the foot of the Cross. They stood, she on the right and he on the left; and there, like a wife from her virginity, received him, a virgin receiving a virgin. So it says in John 19:

When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing, whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple:

Behold thy mother. And from that hour the disciple took her to his own; (Jn 19,26-27)

That is, as his own mother or guardian. O bright pearl of blessed John’s virginity, which merited to be received as a son by the Mother of God’s Son, and to receive her as his own!

8. So there follows, regarding the purity of his virginity: Full of feathers and variety. Something similar is said in Job 29:

I shall die in my nest, and as a palm tree shall multiply my days. (Jb 29,18)

A bird lines its nest with feathers, and makes it soft all round; and this for two reasons- so that the eggs should not be damaged by twigs, and so that the chicks, still without feathers, may find rest and warmth in the softness of feathers. Blessed John’s ‘nest’ was his humble conscience. The word used, strictly, means ‘little nest’, not just ‘nest’.

Virginity is preserved by humility. The proud virgin is no virgin, but is defiled. Humility is expressed by the diminutive, ‘little nest’. His ‘little nest’ was constructed with the softness of feathers, adorned with the gentleness of virginal purity. In this, the ‘eggs’ of thought are kept safe, and the ‘chicks’ of works will have warmth and rest.

So this eagle was ‘full of feathers and variety’, because from purity of mind he came to the beautiful variety of works. A beautiful variety, lilies mingled with roses. So of these two, the Reading of the Mass says:

She hath clothed him with a robe of glory, (as to purity of virginity)

She hath heaped upon him a treasure of joy and gladness (Si 15,6)

(as to splendour of works). And even if he did not close his life in martyrdom, yet he was a martyr, having been cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, exiled to Patmos, and given poison to drink at Ephesus, yet by God’s grace he came through unscathed, because as a palm tree he multiplied his days. The palm tree does not lose its greenness in cold or frost; in the same way blessed John did not lose his constancy of mind or his bodily virginity in either persecution or temptation. And so he died in his little nest, because he persevered in it even to death. Alternatively, I call the grave his ‘little nest’, in which today, having celebrated the divine mysteries, he as descended alive, and reclined himself as if he would sleep.4

9. There follows: He came to Libanus and took away the marrow of the cedar. Mount Libanus (meaning ‘whiteness’) is the heavenly homeland, whose Nazirites are whiter than snow (cf. Lm 4,7). And in Apocalypse 3 it says:

They shall walk with me in white, because they are worthy. (Ap 3,4)

The cedar, tallest of trees, is the height of the divinity. So, the eagle with great wings flew to that heavenly homeland and took the marrow of the cedar, when he said: In the beginning was the Word, etc. Alternatively, the cedar which does not decay is the humanity of Jesus, which did not see corruption and whose ‘marrow’ is the divinity. He took the marrow of the cedar and brought it to us, when he said: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The Reading of today’s Mass is concordant to this:

She hath fed him with the bread of life and understanding,

and given him the water of wholesome wisdom to drink. (Si 15,3)

To be fed with the bread of life and given the water of wisdom to drink, is nothing other than to ‘take the marrow of the cedar’.

Let us, then, ask blessed John that by his prayers the Lord will grant us to despise earthly things and fly to heavenly ones, that we may be refreshed with the marrow of the cedar. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.


10. A large eagle, etc. In this text there are three things to note, morally: the firm faith, the sure hope and the perfect charity of the penitent or just man.

Regarding the first: A large eagle with great wings, long-limbed. The eagle is noted for the sharpness of its sight and of its beak, which, when it grows blunt and cannot catch its food, it sharpens against the rock, and so is said to be renewed. So it says, Thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s (Ps 102,5). Its sight is so keen that, when it is in the air, it can see little fishes in the depths of the water. In the same way the penitent, the Catholic, gazes on the hidden things of God with his heart’s eye, enlightened by faith (for as much as you believe, so much you will see); and he confesses it publicly with his mouth. So the Apostle says of this keenness of sight and beak:

With the heart we believe unto justice; but, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation (Rm 10,10)

Truly this is a ‘large eagle’, (for the eye of faith is large and keen) which sees the Son of God descending from the bosom of the Father into the womb of the Virgin, lying in a manger, wrapped in cloths, offered in the temple with the sacrifices of the poor, fleeing into Egypt, a pilgrim in the world, seated on an ass, derided by the people, struck with a whip, besmeared with spittle, given gall and vinegar to drink, hanging naked on the Cross, buried in the tomb, leading captivity captive from Hell, rising from the grave, ascending into heaven, filling the Apostles with the Holy Spirit, and rendering to each according to his works in the Judgement. Behold the great eagle, keen in sight and beak! The Apostle says of it: Our mouth is open to you, O ye Corinthians (2Co 6,11). What he believed with a faithful heart, he preached with an open mouth, all its bluntness put away.

There follows: with great wings. There is a concordance to this in Apocalypse 12:

And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert, unto her place. (Ap 12,14)

The ‘woman’ is the penitent soul, of whom Isaiah 54 says:

The Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and mourning in spirit. (Is 54,6)

Her two wings are contrition and confession, with which she flies into the desert of penitence, in which to find a place of peace and rest. And note that these two wings are called ‘great’. The wings of true contrition have four great pinions. The first is bitterness for past sin; the second is the firm intention of not falling again; the third is heart-felt forgiveness of every injury; the fourth is make amends to every man. In the wing of confession there are similarly four. The first is the humbling of mind and body before the priest; thus, Mary sat at the Lord’s feet (cf. Lc 10,39); and, in Isaiah 47:

Come down, sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon: sit on the ground. (Is 47,1)

Come down in humility of mind, sit in the dust or on the ground in humbling of body. The second is the general and particular accusation of one’s own iniquity: I will confess before thee (Ps 31,5), he says, and again: I am he that have sinned; I have done wickedly (2S 24,17). The third is the laying bare of the circumstances (namely: "What, who, where, by whom, how many times, why, how, when"). The forth is the voluntary and devout acceptance of the penance enjoined by the priest, so as to say with Samuel: Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth (1S 3,9).

And so, regarding the satisfaction of penance, there is added: Long limbed. The hand which was before drawn back from alms-giving is now stretched right out. So Mark 3 says:

There was in the synagogue a man who had a withered hand; to whom the Lord said: Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth, and his hand was restored. (cf. Mc 3,1 Mc 3,5)

His knees were weak and as it were drawn up; his feet could not perform their function, because sloth had stolen it away, as it says in Proverbs 26:

The slothful man saith: There is a lioness in the way, a lion in the roads.

As a door turneth upon its hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed. (Pr 26,13-14)

But now he runs to prayer and bends his knees. See the great and long-limbed eagle!

11. There follows, regarding the second: full of feathers and of variety. There is something similar in Job 39:

Will an eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest in high places? (Jb 39,27)

The penitent or religious is lifted up from earthly things on the aforesaid wings, at the Lord’s command, who says: Come ye alter me, etc. (Mt 4,19); and again: Let the dead bury their dead (Mt 8,22). He ‘makes his nest’ (that is, he sets his hope) in the ‘high places’ of the rewards of eternal life. He makes this nest with the feathers of patience and kindness. Job made his nest with these feathers, saying in Job 13:

Although he should kill me, I will trust in him. (Jb 13,15)

"It is easy to bear suffering, if patience is not lacking."5 Full of feathers and variety. When the variety of temptations or persecutions arise, the just man makes his nest with the feathers of patience, he covers himself and his chicks (his works), and so "In his patience he will possess his soul" (cf. Lc 21,19).

12. There follows, regarding the third: came to Libanus and took away the marrow of the cedar. The ‘cedar’, which puts serpents to flight with its scent, is charity, which drives away the serpents of envy, wrath, rancour and hatred from the heart of the just man. So the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 13, (4-5) Charity envieth not, "because since it desires nothing in this present world, it does not know how to envy the success of another. It dealeth not perversely, because inasmuch as it expands in the sole love of God and neighbour, it overlooks all that departs from the right standard. It thinketh no evil, because basing its thinking on love of purity, it uproots every trace of hatred, and cannot concern itself with what defiles."6 That is why it is said to be on Mount Libanus (which means ‘whiteness’), to which the just man comes and takes the marrow of the cedar.

The ‘marrow’ is the sweetness of contemplation or compassion for one’s neighbour. When he is lifted up in love of God, he experiences his sweetness; when he stretches out in love of neighbour, he takes the marrow of compassion.

Let us, then, ask the Lord Jesus Christ to give us the wings of contrition and confession, to fly away from sin and make the nest of our hope in heavenly things, and to consume the marrow of two-fold charity. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.