In Secret and Hidden

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.

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One thought on “In Secret and Hidden

  1. Another potential value in modeling our faith practices is that the practice itself may become a vehicle for human connection.
    Last night my husband and son and I went out for ice cream sundaes for Fat Tuesday. When the kids were little we always went to that nearly extinct Minnesota staple, Bridgemans, and the kids would share the whopper of sundaes–“The Lollapalooza.” Feeling nostalgic, I went on the internet to find the last remaining Bridgeman’s in Minneapolis–a tiny, nearly impossible to find hole in the wall tucked into a seldom navigated service road near highway 55. With its tired but recognizable bright blue decor, the place was nearly empty, except for a postman who was a regular and a young man of about 30–by himself. I wasn’t eating dinner (saving myself for the extra large turtle sundae) so I wandered over to the ice cream counter to get a taste of the Licorice chip ice cream, a childhood favorite. That’s when I noticed the young man had before him an empty lollapalooza dish, all 11 scoops and assorted toppings eaten, and a dinner plate of hamburger and french fries–untouched.
    “You have to be Catholic.” I said. “Fat Tuesday, right?”
    He laughed and shared how his dad was “Uber-Catholic” and that they all gave up candy every year, which was “tough as a kid, you know?” Yes, I knew.
    He proceeded to tell me that in college he had a huge list of things he gave up, “I threw on doughnuts, cakes, ice cream, cause candy wasn’t tough anymore.”
    We laughed and shared stories; I introduced him to my husband and son. Now working in the Target Distribution Center in Woodbury, away from his family in Grand Rapids, he wanted to have a Lollapalooza, and the fact that he didn’t have anyone to go with didn’t stop him. He, too, followed the internet to this nearly abandoned outpost. “Is your father still alive?” I asked. “He’s been dead 2 years–I still miss him,” he said. I assured him that his father was looking down and pleased with his Lenten Observances.
    A graced encounter with a stranger where Christ and Love and a lot else became present. All because of outward lenten practices.

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