Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
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)
Lent follows soon after Christmas, but in this season nobody jumps for joy exclaiming, “Lent is here, Lent is here!” The English writer Samuel Johnson went so far as to say, “I hate Lent!”
At face value, Lent is a somber period of 40 days rife with rules and restrictions. For some, it’s easier just to skip Lent altogether (who wants to deny pleasures only to focus on our sins and shortcomings anyway?!), or just sit on the sidelines until Easter (isn’t the resurrection of Christ the real point?!).
But as good athletes or musicians or leaders will attest, rules and hard work are necessary to bring out our best. Why would the spiritual life be any different?
Today’s readings reveal Lent as a profound invitation from God—“Return to me with all your heart” (Jl 2:12)—and as a training regimen for growing in our faith by giving alms, praying, and fasting (Mt 6:1–6, 16–18). In his own quest to love and serve God, Saint Ignatius recognized the powerful relationship between contemplation and action. His Spiritual Exercises are broken into four weeks (or stages) that include meditations on scripture, imaginative exercises, and contemplative practices to help us see ourselves as “loved sinners” by a God who is constantly working in our lives. As important, Ignatius’s Exercises help us respond to God’s grace by loving others and serving where the need is greatest.
This Ash Wednesday, we are called to jump the fence of apathy or laziness onto the practice field of faith. For this first day, we will wear a cross of ashes on our foreheads as an outward sign of our commitment to making the most of this Lent. But our real work will be done discreetly in our hearts.
This Lent, what will I give up—or start doing—to enhance my relationship with God?
While I refrain from “sounding a trumpet” for my efforts, what are some ways that my spiritual practices can influence how I act and treat others?
—Jeremy Langford, Director of Communications for the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits. Adapted from his book, Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life ©2007 Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA.
St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises offers a wide range of practices for developing a healthy spiritual life. One of them is the Examination of Conscience, or the Daily Examen—a restful prayer that invites us to evaluate the hours of the day in light of three central questions: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?
God, I believe that at this quiet moment I am in your presence and you are now loving me. Come Holy Spirit.
God, I acknowledge your love for me in the various gifts for which I am very grateful. Thanks be to God.
God, help me now to review the events of this day in order to recognize you in all parts of my life. Lord, I want to see.
God, please forgive the times I have fallen short, and strengthen my attempts to follow you. Lord have mercy.
God, enlighten me so that my future choices praise, reverence, and serve you above all else. Show me your way.
Conclude with an Our Father…
For more on the Examen and other Ignatian resources, visit our partners at Loyola Press.