Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
1 "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 "Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when 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. 16 "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Questions for Reflection and/or Discussion
Lent is upon us! Once again, as every year, I must determine what sacrifices and prayer to observe as a family and personally. The most compelling question that arises from this Gospel reading is in the first verse: What are my motives for my Lenten practices? A friend and I were discussing last week that we feel called to do more than just give up chocolate for another year. It is a sacrifice, but it is something we know we can do. Therefore, it becomes a petty thing, merely checking it off of our Lenten list. We are called to grow during Lent, to deepen our relationship with Christ. Do my Lenten practices truly have that motive?
One of my greatest challenges is keeping to a set time of daily personal prayer. Even writing this, I am realizing that this is the time I had planned to do that today, since I did not get it done this morning. So, I will stop writing now and be back soon… If you have children, going into your room and shutting the door is very difficult to do except when they are asleep, and if you are like me, that is the time you are racing to get done all the things you “cannot” do when they are awake. Nevertheless, this is exactly what our Lord calls us to do. He wants us to pray in secret. Yes, it is good for our children to see us pray. We teach through example, but it is also important to have time reserved specifically for only me and my Savior. How during this Lent will I preserve this type of time with God? A military chaplain who visited our old church just one time will always remain in my thoughts; he taught that God expects us to always choose what is “best,” not merely what is “good.” Jesus admonished Martha for not choosing “the better part.” How can I remind myself of this call to secret prayer amidst my busy life? It can actually be a sin to choose to do my duties as a wife and mother when I should be taking the time to pray.
When Catholics discuss Lent, it is usually asking what you will give up this year. Our fasting is important during Lent, because it trains our hearts in the way of the Lord, who Himself spent forty days fasting in the desert before beginning His ministry. The call to fast is a call to holiness. This small penance enables us to conquer greater vices in our lives and resist bigger temptations when we face them. Is my Lenten sacrifice petty, or does it truly remind me of Christ’s sacrifice? Am I only choosing a small thing that I will go back to after Easter, or am I also choosing to use this time to break a bad habit and establish a new positive habit? Our pastor has called us to do three things to grow in holiness this Lent: (1) make a voluntary amendment of life by working to break a bad habit forever, (2) perform acts of penance by fasting from some small thing for Lent, and (3) perform some work(s) of charity through prayer and/or service throughout Lent that may continue after Lent is over. What could you do in each of these areas?
In a new way this Lent, I am being challenged to not merely give up some indulgence but to truly train my soul in holiness. My sacrifices might include small mortifications in addition to typical fasts, because I feel my motives are more pure this way. What have you planned? What are your motives? Are you making plans to literally change your life in the next forty days and be reborn as a whole new person on Easter morning? I hope so!
With a more fervent participation let us direct our gaze, therefore, in this time of penance and prayer, at Christ crucified who, dying on Calvary, revealed fully for us the love of God. ~ from The Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for Lent 2007