Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In Gospel reading for today’s Mass, Jesus gives his disciples some instruction on the traditional Lenten practices: almsgiving, prayer and fasting.
When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be in secret…
When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret…
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.
We engage in the practices of prayer, almsgiving and fasting not to impress our friends and colleagues with how pious we are, but as a way of turning ourselves more and more toward God. Although it has always been a popular pastime among Catholics to trade, “what are you giving up?” responses, Jesus is clear that this one is properly between us and God.
The advice is a little tricky though, because there is potential value in modeling our faith practices to others. We give witness to the centrality of our faith when we take Lent seriously. So for me the issue becomes one of motivation. Is my focus on God or on me? Am I letting someone see what I am giving up with the hope they focus on how good I am or with the hope they see how central God is? The hope that they praise me or praise God? Is it for God’s glory or my own?
Blessings during this Lenten season.