Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,
To those who come close to the time of Lent, already overwhelmed by the prospect of the traditional forms of penance they are going to have to carry out, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, today’s Gospel doesn’t seem to bring much comfort.
Through a two-fold teaching, the Church, as she repeats the Lord’s words, gives to the faithful at the beginning of the most important period in the liturgical year a precious and uncompromising line of conduct, which hunts down to its very tiniest recesses the slight compensations we would like to find to soften somewhat the austerities of penance.
First of all, the Lord tackles outward appearance:
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites.” (Mt 6:16)
This teaching concerning fasting was preceded by two other parallel teachings on almsgiving and prayer:
"Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men." (Mt 6:2)
"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." (Mt 6:5)
The hypocrite, he who receives his reward from men, conceals his true feelings, his true thoughts, his true personality. He is deceitful and shifty.
Almsgiving provides for the needs of the poor. Prayer praises God. Finally, through fasting, man bears witness that his own life doesn’t consist in satisfying his instincts, but that he is able to renounce them; whereas the hypocrite condemned by Jesus doesn’t care a fig for the poor, for God or mortification. His acts aim at something else: being seen and admired by men; this admiration is solely founded on a pretence.
Each human act is rooted in the innermost part of our hearts, the secret place of our thoughts, our desires, our hatreds, too, a place where God is present, a place which is the foundation for the dignity of every man.
In a world where virtuality is ubiquitous and intrusive, reality has lost much of its worth, and even of its taste.
Who will fight for truth? The flatterer and the flattered one congratulate and compliment each other, while their existences are in fact sterile and void. Man is enslaved by his desires, and he forgets that he has a heart, a dignity, and that it is this heart and dignity which should make all his acts fairer.
Jesus reminds His disciples that what matters in the eyes of God is what man possesses in the depths of his heart.
Never mind the judgment of men when it disagrees with the judgment of God. God knows the depths of the hearts. Man also, to a certain extent, can access the depths of his own heart.
Through these lines, the Church invites us at the beginning of Lent to ponder on how consistent our lives are, to go down to the depths of our hearts, and to mind more how God considers our acts than how our neighbors do.
The Lord’s second teaching seems more positive. What is at stake is no longer to fast, but to exert ourselves to store up a treasure. Yet, what’s the good? “The rust and moth consume it, and thieves break through and steal it.” (Mt 6:19)
Left to themselves, earthly goods either spoil or disappear. The farseeing man will store up a treasure in heaven, “where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break through and steal.” (Mt 6:20)
The conclusion is simple: “For where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.” (Mt 6:21)
These two teachings are a pressing call to interiority, to a deepening of our relationship with the Lord. We have to be disciples not merely outwardly, but in truth. Our world is in utter confusion, and needs a true testimony.
During the Angelus on last November, 18th, the Day of the Poor, Pope Francis gave the following comment on the Gospel of St. Mark evoking the end of time (Mk 13:24-32), which repeats today’s two teachings: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (v. 31). 'This is the true crux. On that day, each of us will have to understand whether the Word of the Son of God has illuminated our personal existence, or whether we turned our back to it, preferring to trust in our own words. […] No one can escape this moment, none of us! Shrewdness, which we often instill in our conduct in order to validate the image we wish to offer, will no longer be useful; likewise, the power of money and of economic means with which we pretentiously presume to buy everything and everyone, will no longer be of use. We will have with us nothing more than what we have accomplished in this life by believing in His Word: the all and nothing of what we have lived or neglected to fulfill. We will take with us only what we have given.'
During Lent, the Church entrusts the faithful to the keeping of the Holy Angels. Let’s make our prayer to our elder brethren in Paradise more insistent. Above all, let us not forget to pray to their Queen, Mary.
At the beginning of the holy forty days, it is not amiss to recall Mary’s answer to the Angel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38), or also the advice she gave to the servants at the wedding in Cana, “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do it” (Jn 2:5). And the water in the jars was turned into a delicious wine.
This motto for Lent reminds us that God’s commandments are pre-eminently words of love, a calling to life, as an echo of the words once addressed to a teacher of the law, “Do this, and thou shalt live” (Lk 10:28).
Let us therefore stockpile, during these holy days separating us from Easter, treasures of charity, the precious stones which will adorn our hearts. Let us recover our hearts, so as to recover our full dignity.
Have a holy Lent, with a fervent “expectation of the holy Passover, with the gladness of spiritual desire”, as St. Benedict recommends (Rule, c. 49, “On the Keeping of Lent”).
Amen.BACK TO LIST