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Being Unlike the Hypocrites
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
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.”
Opening Prayer: Heavenly Father, you see exactly who I am, and you still desire an intimate relationship with me. You invite me to come to you in my weakness and allow you to mold me into the person that I was created to be. Lord, as this Lenten season begins, grant me the grace to humbly accept your invitation to conversion, leaving behind any hypocrisy.
- Lenten Pillars: The three-part structure of today’s Gospel 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. Our Lord is well aware of our tendency toward self, and wants to spur an interior conversion away from “self” and towards “the other.” May we live this season of Lent with fortitude to do without, and in solidarity with those who must routinely do without. May our hearts be inflamed and give generously to the Lord, confident, as St. Ignatius of Loyola once proclaimed, that he cannot be outdone in generosity.
- Dust to Dust: Despite neatly laying out the trio of pillars for our good Lenten preparation, one portion of today’s Gospel might seem out of place on Ash Wednesday. Today a great number of the faithful will be carrying out their daily responsibilities with a smudge of ash visible to all. On this particular day, the ashes lingering on our foreheads (or atop our scalps in some European countries) proclaim our communion with other Christians who, sinful like us, are seeking an interior conversion this Lenten season. Let us humbly echo the psalm response today, “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned,” and wear our ashes humbly as a visible sign that we follow Jesus.
- Being Seen in Secret: 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.”
Conversing with Christ: Lord, thank you for this time of prayer with you, and for clearly enumerating what will be best for me during this Lent. When I look at my face in the mirror and see the ashes on my forehead, I am reminded of my mortality, and that everything I have is an unmerited gift from you. Please know that I am grateful to you for my very existence, and that I long to see your divine and pristine face when you call me home.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make a concrete plan for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving this Lent.
For Further Reflection: Read some interesting history about Ash Wednesday in this article entitled Ashes and How to Impose Them.
Andrew Rawicki and his wife, JoAnna, live in Irving, Texas, near seven of their nine grandchildren. A convert from Judaism, Andrew entered the Church in 1991 and has been a member of the Regnum Christi spiritual family since 2001. He has served as the Regnum Christi Local Director for Dallas since July 2020.