Thursday: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving
We have officially entered the Lenten season. At yesterday’s all-school Mass, we heard proclaimed as our Gospel reading a portion of the Sermon on the Mount from St. Matthew’s Gospel. In this famous text, our Lord instructs us on how to properly rely on the three major pillars of the Lenten spiritual life – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
It is important to note the focus our Lord gives to these three practices. The focus Jesus gives prayer, fasting and almsgiving is exactly the opposite to how we are naturally inclined to orient them.
Think: When we give alms, we naturally want to praise ourselves – and make sure others do as well. When we fast, we are tempted to be gloomy and irritable, focusing on the pain of what we are giving up. Even when we pray, we tend to focus on ourselves – “how well we are doing”, if we’re in the right postures and saying the right words (especially with the new Mass translation!).
When we observe the three Lenten practices in this worldly way, in Jesus’ words, we “already have our reward.” That reward is nothing more than our own empty praise.
Pray: how often do I tend to focus on myself in my everyday life? In my relationships with others? In my relationship with God? (silence)
In stark contrast: Jesus’ focus is totally on the Father. It is not denial for denial’s sake that our Lord instructs us give alms secretly, to pray in your inner room, to fast quietly and cleanly. No, we do these things in this way because we do them for the sake of the Father. Isn’t that why we do these practices in the first place? To let God into our lives more completely? We pray, we fast, we give alms not that we may be glorified, but that we may more easily allow God to be glorified in us.
And when we do this, the Father Himself becomes our reward. What more could we ask for?
Pray: how can I make the focus of my life more and more the Father in heaven? How can I more concretely desire the Father as the object of my life?
Let us continually pray that the Father may become more and more the center of all our lives, and that we may desire this reality all the more.