Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
Our Lord is well aware of our tendency toward self. Throughout the Gospel, we read the parables of Jesus continually seeking to spur an interior conversion away from “self” and towards “the other.”
Today’s scripture is the traditional passage which marks the period of Lent. It’s that time when we are reminded to turn away from self.
The three-part structure of today’s scripture neatly presents the traditional “pillars” of the upcoming season of Lent. Jesus is inviting us to engage, in a special way, in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
What is the cost of setting aside a bit more time for prayer? For giving up something? For offering assistance to those in need? Maybe my time scrolling on my smartphone is reduced, or my appetites have less instant gratification, or my bank account has a smaller sum of “mad money” at the end of the month. A more profound question, and one which Our Lord answers three times, is what will we gain? Nothing we do earns us a place in Heaven; this is God’s free and unmerited gift to those who desire communion with him. But the humble acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, particularly when done in secret, beautifully reflect the desire to unite ourselves to Christ, who, thrice, in this Sermon on the Mount passage, assures us that “your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Lent then is an opportunity to break the routine of life. This is what Lenten practices are meant to achieve. This is why we pray more or give additional time and money to the poor. This is why we give up smoking or alcohol. It is like putting a stone in your shoe. It is something to remind you, something to break the normal pattern of living. The hope, of course, is that if we can break the routine, we can begin to ask important questions: Who am I? What do I value? How do I need to change? What am I taking for granted? Those are the questions that the routine of life erases from our consciousness. Those are the questions which must be asked if we are truly going to live.
The Lord wants to renew us each day and give us new hearts of love and compassion. Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor? Seek him expectantly in prayer, with fasting, and in generous giving to those in need.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, give me a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, and a great love of you. Take from me all lukewarmness in the meditation of your word, and dullness in prayer. Give me fervor and delight in thinking of you and your grace, and fill me with compassion for others, especially those in need, that I may respond with generosity”.
The Lord Jesus gives us spiritual food and supernatural strength (faith, hope, and love) to seek his face and to prepare ourselves for spiritual combat and testing. We, too, must follow in the way of the cross in order to share in the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection. As you begin this holy season of testing and preparation, ask the Lord Jesus for a fresh outpouring of his Holy Spirit so that you may grow in faith, hope, and love and embrace his will more fully in your life.