Done in Secret

Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51 / 2 Cor 5:20–6:2

…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
(Matthew 6:4,6 and 18)

Good deeds that seek a ton of praise
Are only worth an ounce of grace.
Kind acts performed in secrecy
Live on for all eternity.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, to win the praise of men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not pray like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, to be seen by men. 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. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. 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 men 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

Six times our Lord Jesus mentioned the word “secret” — perhaps because He wanted to emphasize that no good deed done for the praise of men ever gained any grace or spiritual benefit. This is the common pitfall for everyone who has a hidden desire for recognition. Some say it is difficult to be humble because the penchant for recognition is really just human nature. Just as we praise others for their good deeds or noble traits, we also want others to know what we see as commendable in ourselves. But it is the man who has grown in wisdom through God’s grace who does not seek the praise of others. Knowing that his good deeds are pleasing in the eyes of God is enough for him. The good that he does is the consequence of his gratitude to Divine Providence because he has already received his reward. That is why our Lord admonishes us to hide all our good deeds, so that we may not fall into this weakness, this flaw in our human nature. Giving alms, fasting, praying, and abstinence are effective ways of atoning for sins, but only if done in secrecy.

Today’s Gospel passage comes at an opportune time: the season of Lent starts today. This is the time when our Church is calling upon the faithful to practice penitence, forgiveness, simplicity and restraint. The series of natural calamities that have been happening in our country and all over the world may be warning signs. I am not suggesting that the end may be near, but this is the time to examine our lives, and perhaps do some “housecleaning”. As we read in the first reading, “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.” (Jl 2:12-13) Likewise, it may be prudent to heed St. Paul’s warning in the second reading: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2Cor.5:20). Don’t take your time, you may be running out of it.

A humble heart, Lord, let me find; take away all feelings of righteousness and pride;
make me constantly realize that all my sacrifices mean nothing if not done in repentance for all my sins. Amen.

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