“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.
We’re used to hearing this passage at the beginning of Lent, yet here we are in the midst of Ordinary Time. Perhaps it can be a reminder now, to take stock of our spiritual practices. Here Jesus is telling his followers, as he’s telling us today, to make an examination of our pieties and devotional practices. Do we do them so others may see our “holiness”? That would make them insincere and the only reward we would get would be the attention. But if we’re even willing to do them away from the eyes of others, in secret before God, we can trust their genuineness.
The truth is, all we need to worry about is what God sees in our hearts. God doesn’t care for us to go through religious motions with half-filled hearts, just as my wife wouldn’t appreciate insincere, hollow words or actions. Practices of love must always be for the building of the relationship, not the self.
What practices do you have that deepen your relationship with God?
How do you, Lord, look at me?
What do you feel in your heart for me?
—John Eagan, SJ