“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever 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.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
Ashes are funny, flimsy things. They blow with any breeze and disappear – like my own resolutions, my resolve in the face of temptation. They’re dirty, too; they smudge fingers and forehead and need to be scrubbed off – like my own sins. As I begin Lent on this Ash Wednesday, Lord, help me not to be an “ash” like that, and to repent of and resist further smudges.
The Church suggests three ways of “repenting” during Lent: prayer, fasting and giving to the needy. I’m doing the praying – that’s why I’m here talking to you. Give me persistence in that, these Lenten days: the grit to ‘waste time’ with you in prayer — even if I don’t hear music and see lights when I pray. (That satisfaction is something I can fast from also…)
But let me think about another kind of fasting: from some small pleasure which, by my not seeking it, will be a reminder to me that real happiness doesn’t consist in things like that. Or bypassing some more expensive pleasure and simply giving that money to the poor.
Or by refraining from some behavior which nourishes the opposite of what I want to become: a person “for others.” For me, Lord, that may be “road rage” which at heart is often grounded in self-centeredness, or sarcasm as a way of asserting my power over others. Or any of the many other things I do which really “smudge” me.
Anyway, Lord, in the Lenten weeks ahead, help me, wherever I need it, to “return to you with all my heart.”
—Fr. John J. O’Callaghan, S.J. is senior chaplain for the health sciences division at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood IL