Acts of False Piety

Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
2 Cor 5:20—6:2 / Psa 51

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:1)

The righteousness of every act
Comes from the grace of God above;
All good things that we do in fact
Are but reflections of His love.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 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 others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18)

Reflection

Ever since we were young, most of us had always sought the approval of others, because being social animals, we needed to be identified with and accepted by our peers. Thus, in order to belong, we learned how to smoke, drink, take drugs, and participate in whatever our group was engaged in. We may not necessarily have liked what we were doing at the time — learning how to smoke tortured our throats with coughing, drinking rum or whiskey felt like our stomach was burning, and drugs often gave us a bad trip — but we had no choice if we wanted to be part of the group, to be ‘cool’. What we didn’t know was that our self-confidence hinged on our need for human approval, and made us live in a world of make-believe. Our life was as artificial as the hallucinogenic drugs we were taking.

Today, many people are still living the artificial life, even in the practice of their faith. They like to see their names up on the white screen before the show of a fund-raising event. At a benefit show we attended, not a single ‘Anonymous’ or ‘From a Friend’ was listed among the dozens of benefactors and patrons who donated money for the beneficiaries of the event.

The television has become a very powerful medium for evangelization, and yet, observe how some evangelists have turned their prayer assemblies into dramatic presentations. Bible in hand, eyes closed, voice quavering in eloquent prayer, their performances can only be described as theatrical. No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites. They are like the Greek actors of old, playing a role, where this word took its original meaning.

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent with fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, three activities that should be performed in secret if the purpose is for sanctification. Otherwise, they serve only for self-glorification, and these Lenten practices would all be exercises in futility.

Thank you, Lord God, for making me realize my mistakes and insecurities, and leading me to what is honest, noble and lasting in your kingdom. Grant that our prayers, fasting and almsgiving this Lenten season be pleasing to Your eyes alone. Amen.

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