Lent and Love

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)

The righteousness of every act

Comes from the grace of God above;

In all good things we shall not lack,

As we share humbly in His love.

Jesus said, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see 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. But 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. When you pray, do not pray like the hypocrites, who 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 dismal, like the hypocrites, for 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

Some say it is difficult to be humble because the penchant for recognition is really just a part of 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. The poet Robertson wrote,
“Make me, O Lord, so much like Thee, / My life controlled by force divine;/ That I a shining light may be, / From which Your grace may ever shine.” The good deeds that we perform must be seen as a reflection of God’s goodness, and not our own.

Today’s Gospel passage comes at a most interesting time: the season of Lent, which starts today, coincides with the day of hearts – Valentine’s Day. At a time when our Church is calling upon the faithful to practice compassion, forgiveness, and humility, these are also the essential qualities called for in practicing genuine love, not only to our intimate partner in life, but more importantly to those who have less in life, like almsgiving, so that “your Father, who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4).

Love also means forgiving those who have hurt us, especially with offensive words. Words can cause deeper wounds than actions. Forgiveness leads to reconciliation with tender words, which most often make the offending party realize his or her mistake. But the most endearing quality of love is humility. This was displayed by the former leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, who abdicated from the highest position in the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI humbly admitted his incapacity “to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to (him)” as Supreme Pontiff of Rome. He was, after all, already 85 years old at the time. In the pope’s wisdom, he believed our Church needed a stronger and much younger spiritual leader to guide the “boat of St. Peter” during these turbulent times. His act of humility opened a new age of enlightenment for the Church under the dynamic leadership of Pope Francis.

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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