In the gospel reading of Matthew tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, Jesus warns his disciples: “Beware of practicing your piety before others to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus also emphasized: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.
“Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Our Lord continues: “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.
“Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
As Christians, we are tasked to practice our faith.
However, there is a very real danger, as with everything we do, that we do these things for the wrong reasons: primary among these is the desire to look good in the eyes of others which leads to public displays of our practice of prayer fasting, and alms giving.
As we’ve seen several times over the past couple of years everything we do has to be for the love and glory of God and for the love and glory of God alone, anything else receives a rebuke from our Lord as we can see in today’s passage.
The gospel urges us to continue to pray, too fast, to give alms despite having no one to see us.
In this passage at the beginning of the Lenten season, Jesus tells us about the rewards, not just those we will receive on judgment day, but also the gifts that the Holy Spirit will bestow on us.
Indeed, when we pray what is it we ask for?
Jesus is asking us not to pray about our worldly needs but more importantly, we should ask for heavenly things.
And all this comes together in Jesus as we accompany him these following weeks towards his passion, crucifixion and resurrection.
Those of us who are sick, in my case with Stage 4 prostate cancer, embracing the Cross is what we are called to do.
These days, my prayer is words I borrow from the character of Sarah Miles in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair and I paraphrase: “Let me go up to the Cross and be crucified with you. If I could suffer like you, I could heal like you.”
Jesus, fully human and fully divine, carries within himself the complexity of our human existence.
God had chosen to dwell through Jesus in human language and bodily expressions.
As fully human and fully divine, Our Lord knows how to be misunderstood and rejected.
And Jesus, despite all the difficulties he encountered until the extreme loneliness at the cross, continued to remain faithful to his human condition through prayer, service, and fasting. And by his resurrection, he revealed that, in God, nothing good we have done is ever lost.
The smallest sign of love given, the shortest prayer said, and the smallest sacrifice made have their importance in God’s sight.
This Ash Wednesday and Lent we are once again reminded of the tenet that we live in a world that is tainted by sin.
But there are so many sources of violence and degradation, we see bloodshed across our globe. Yet, I want to believe that we can choose to live to be good.
In this state of rebellion, Jesus came, joined us, and offered that we can become children of God.
By his death and resurrection, Jesus breaks the dominion of sin if we are willing to welcome him into our hearts. The Church has long used ashes as an outward sign of grief, a mark of humility, mourning, penance, and morality.
Ash Wednesday urges Catholics to live the next forty days in deep reflection. With Ash Wednesday, we enter into a climate of repentance and conversion.
During this period of the liturgical year, we are reminded to practice our faith, do acts of charity, and constant prayer with the purest and most sincere heart and intent.
Never be like the hypocrites. For God always sees through the innermost recesses of our hearts.
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