Mt 6:1–6, 16–18
Be careful not to make a show of your good deeds before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven. When you give something to the poor, do not have it trumpeted before you, as do those who want to be noticed in the synagogues and in the streets, in order to be praised by people. I assure you, they have their reward.
If you give something to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift remains really secret. Your Father, who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.
When you pray, do not be like those who want to be noticed. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners in order to be seen by everyone. I assure you, they have their reward. When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is with you in secret; and your Father who sees what is kept secret will reward you.
When you fast, do not put on a miserable face as do the hypocrites. They put on a gloomy face, so that people can see they are fasting. I tell you this: they have been paid in full already. When you fast, wash your face and make yourself look cheerful, because you are not fasting for appearances or for people, but for your Father who sees beyond appearances. And your Father, who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our Lenten journey, an invitation to integrity through a deepening relationship with God. The contrast between inward and outward motivation runs through Jesus’ teachings on almsgiving, prayer and fasting. His message is appropriate for our times where so much emphasis is placed on what can be seen and shown on the outside. This only gives rise to hypocrisy and superficiality, especially if there is a big gap between how we present ourselves on the outside and who we are on the inside. Except for those who are utterly enslaved to self-deception, we all long for integrity; we desire harmony between our inner person and our public self. It creates great tension and guilt within us when there is a dichotomy between what we are inside and how we manifest ourselves outside. Jesus invites us to look into our human heart to see that deep within us is a desire to enter into a relationship with God as we are, without pretensions or masks. What we are inwardly and how we act and appear outwardly are brought to integration and harmony at the core of our relationship with God in prayer.
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