A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
"Jesus said to his disciples; "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left had know what your right hand is doing, so that your almsgiving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret, will repay you. "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father, who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you." The Gospel of the Lord
Let us quiet our hearts and listen to God in the silence. +Come Holy Spirit, Creator Blest, and in my soul, take up Your rest, come with Your grace and heavenly aid, to heal my heart which You have made.
As we read and ponder this passage slowly, reading it outloud, listen to what strikes you. Maybe its an image or a word like, praying, fasting, blowing a trumpet, gloomy, secret etc...maybe its an image that Lent always draws in your mind, with purple, and incense and stations of the cross or maybe fasting and what that means or has meant to you, in your Christian journey, or maybe the ashes fill your thoughts with the greater question of eternal life, or maybe it's the image above. After reading this passage and listening quietly in silence, three things remain with me to ponder in this Gospel passage. First off, the word "Father", secondly, the image of an "inner room" and thirdly, the underlying and unspoken "word" of the lesson in today's Gospel that comes to mind for me, the word is "Simplicity." Lets look at these three.
In this passage Jesus is teaching the disciples (us) about what matters to our Father in heaven. As we begin Lent, we oftentimes think of what I should give up for lent. What way can I show my love for God? That's good. Oftentimes we can begin with right intentions and later dwarf the greater part of them, by turning them in, on ourselves. We can split our love by doing something albeit difficult, but for a very self-serving reason, which is not love. Example, we can say, "I will fast from eating sweets, candy, and pizza." We can "say" this is my Lenten fast but if our intention is really to lose weight, well, then our love is rather cheap, as our intention is split, "a little bit for Him and a little bit for me" a win win...right? no. Now the intention is no longer singular and pure but it has duplicity. As if Our Lord, who knows our hearts through and through, doesn't know our real motives.
Our Lord wants us to be sincere about our LOVE for Him, our Love for the Father. Why? Because He TRULY loves us and love seeks love in return also because, we can't receive the fullness of His love and mercy, if our hearts, are not ALL THERE to receive it. This gospel is about "squaring up", becoming simple, straight forward, no pretense, no duplicity. But rather sincerely being honest with oneself and God. What I love so much about it, is the tenderness of the lesson for the disciple (us). Jesus is talking to us, about Our Father, several times. He says, "Your Father," letting us know that He knows our Father in Heaven, this is His Father, and He is " lifting up our chin" so to speak, so that we look up to heaven, to remember our home, our heavenly family where we came from, where we are going back one day and whom we belong to, whose child we are-The Fathers! Which leads us to the Second point.
The inner room in most homes, is usually more private. We too all have our very own, "inner room" deep in our heart where our Lord dwells, by virtue of our Baptism and growing in God's grace. We can come and go anytime in that "inner room" and the best part is, it's private and the Lord is waiting for us. He is always there to listen, to love, to comfort, to teach, to heal, and to BE with us. Close your eyes, and open your heart and you will find Him there, in the silence of the heart.
Lastly the Third point is simplicity. Mother Teresa used to always tell us that God is simple, and the closer you come to Him, the more simple you will become. Lent is about simplifying ourselves and our lives in order to become more ONE with Christ. Doing little things with great love for Jesus during Lent is a beautiful thing and doing LESS of all the other clutter that so wrestles with our time is also very important. Perhaps a major "interior de-clutter day" on Tuesday, before Ash Wednesday is in order! Taking that personal inventory of how I spend my time. Focusing on not adding more, but taking away all the clutter that gets in the way of my relationship with the Lord.
Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving are a powerful means, and they are not the end. The goal is LOVE, growing in this loving relationship with the Lord. If we direct them to the end- JESUS CHRIST- that continuous gaze being lifted back to Him, then we are on track. The end is Love. Holiness comes down to a very simple thing- LOVE. "Holiness is only a very high degree of Love" (Mother Teresa). If we look at the word SIMPLE an acronym could be: S=Sincere, I= Intentional, M=Magnanimous, P=Pure, L=Loving, E= Entire. Something is said to be pure when there is nothing mixed with it; like pure cotton, pure vanilla, pure wool, pure fun! The quality comes from the essence of it not being muted. So too with us. A Simple person has that purity of intention- single eyed focus. (This is my memory of Mother Teresa, her life was distilled to one word-JESUS). Simplicity has no double motives, "eyes on the prize" and no division, no scattering itself. Perhaps, that is one of the kernels of the lesson the Lord is teaching us in today's Gospel. Let us keep our eyes, our hearts on the Father, His love, mercy, and faithfulness. Let us go into our heart and speak to him, simply, heart to heart, let us say what we mean and mean what we say, and allow Him to work with us, in that truth.
Let us close with looking at this beautiful painting of the Prodigal Son. On our last expedition, Fr. Quinn shared this picture with us, and it hasn't left my thoughts since, because the Father's love is all Mercy, all tenderness, ever welcoming us into His arms, and His arms are mighty and strong. A refuge for us poor and weak and little ones. I don't know about you, but I am one of those little ones.
Prayer: Loving Father, Faithful Father, Father of all Mercy and Love, look down upon me and show me your Mercy, for I am your child, poor and small yet I love you and trust you with great confidence, because you are my Father. Amen