“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order 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.
“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.
“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.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
It’s tempting to let our Lenten fast play double-duty: we give up sweets, hoping to drop a few pounds; we fast from our snooze button, hoping the boss might notice our early arrival.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus addresses these ulterior motives. The point of Lent is not outward action, but interior transformation that makes a difference in our spiritual lives – which might not be seen by those around us. Eventually, though, these subtle changes of the heart will become evident in our relationships, decisions, and actions.
I don’t think Jesus is saying that we shouldn’t let anyone know about our Lenten commitments. Certainly I think St. Ignatius would tell us not to ignore the importance of community in our spiritual lives. So beyond determining what interior change might be needed, let’s ask ourselves who we trust to help keep us on track and encourage us all the way to Easter?
—Rachel Forton is the Marketing & Retreat Coordinator for Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, IL.
Behold, you desire true sincerity;
and secretly you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
You will let me hear gladness and joy;
the bones you have crushed will rejoice.
Turn away your face from my sins;
blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit.
Please share the Good Word with your friends!