FEB. 17. ASH WEDNESDAY. LENT. MT. 6. 1-6, 16-18.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’
As Lent begins, as my sixty years in the desert (21 May 1961 to 21 May 2021) draws to a conclusion, the reading focuses very much on the motivation and purpose of our earthly pilgrimage, in that it raises the question of “why” we do our good works, or “why” we strive to imitate Christ.
And it is appropriate during Lent we ponder this question! Do we do it in order to “parade our good works before men”, or is it so that they can be “trumpeted before us”, or do we do it as a “secret”; - wanting to keep our good works a secret between ourselves and the Father?
When we pray; - what is our motivation. Is it so that “people will see us”, or do we desire to genuinely pray “in secret” to the Father? When we fast, what is our motivation, is it “so men know we are fasting” or, again, is it done “in secret; - for the Father alone.
The message of the reading is clear. All our good works, all our striving for Holiness, the very purpose of our life must be motivated by Faith in God, and Love of God. If we do it for any other reason then “we have already received our reward”, and our life, and our efforts, have no meaning.
If, however, the focus of our lives is on Eternal Live, and the attainment of a loving union with God, even while on earth, then we are told; - “Your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you”; - not only in Eternal Life, but now, during our earthly pilgrimage.
The Christian vocation, the Christian “invitation” is based on Faith and a belief in a loving God who dwells in Eternity; - and who wants us to dwell with him there; - but before this can happen our hearts must first be purified of all earthly “desires” or “motivations” that indicate a “love” for the things of this world.
Lent provides us an opportunity to continue to carry out this purification of the heart!