Today's Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 - Ash Wednesday
When I hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel, I am a little puzzled and uncomfortable. I don’t think that I belong to the circle of showy hypocrites that Jesus’ describes. Maybe this Gospel passage doesn’t apply to me. Still, I can’t quite let myself off the hook that easily. Let me take another look.
Jesus talks about three practices closely associated with Lent: almsgiving or giving money to the poor, personal prayer, and fasting or self-denial. It’s interesting that he doesn’t recommend these practices. He assumes that believers are already doing these things: “When you give alms…when you pray…when you fast.” I may need to take a look at myself and see if and how these practices are woven into my life. If they are not or if they are but haphazardly, change is in order.
Something else strikes me in Jesus’ words. It’s just not enough to do these holy things. The quality and focus of our actions matter very much. What we do, we do for God. Our good deeds are not meant to impress others. That’s the failure of the hypocrites. And—even more—our good deeds are not meant to be part of some self-improvement program. There can only be one focus, Jesus says, and that is on God, who sees and knows the deepest and most hidden realms of our hearts.
The words of Jesus certainly challenge me to take another look at how I put my faith into practice and how I direct myself to God who calls me to new life. More than challenge, however, his words also give me hope, because they show the way.
How can I keep the attention and focus less on myself and others, and more on God who sees and knows what is hidden?
Never cease to call me, Lord, into a fuller and truer life with you. May my prayers and works always reflect your goodness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Copyright 2016 Fr. Louis J. Cameli
Father Louis J. Cameli is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He has a doctorate in theology with a specialization in spirituality. He has served as a teacher, pastor, and spiritual director, and has published books and articles on theology and spirituality.