A Reading from the 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 hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be 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 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 others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Opening Prayer: Loving God, you ask us to carry out almsgiving, prayer and fasting in secret. We are helped by your good example. Whatever is done with sincere love will last eternally. Let us ask for a heart that is free, that enables us to live with sincere love.
Encountering Christ: We all want to be a little more liked. The different platforms of social media play upon our desire to be popular through likes, followers, friends, etc. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees wanted the same thing, just with a different platform: climbing their own pedestal. Jesus said they turned street corners into platforms when they gave alms or prayed with their arms spread wide out while chanting slowly so that everyone would see and hear. Whenever they prayed in synagogues, they stood; so that all eyes were on them. In the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, there was one person who wasn’t watching the Pharisee: God. Jesus said, “They have already received their reward.” God’s eyes were on the humble, quiet, repentant tax collector. “God looks upon the lowly, but watches the proud from a distance” (Psalms 138:6). “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones but has lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52).
Blessed Are the Lowly: The wonderful thing is that God longs to meet the lowly, the simple, and the small. St. Andre Bessette said of himself, “God chose the most ignorant one. If there was anyone more ignorant than I am, God would have chosen him instead of me.” Other saints said much the same thing that they were chosen by God, precisely because they were the weakest, the smallest, and the least educated. St. Paul himself said, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). God is drawn to humility like iron to a magnet. Or perhaps it would be better to say that God is the magnet, and when we are humble, our true spirit is shown, and we are lifted up towards him. When we are humble, he cannot take his eyes off of us. As St. John of the Cross-said, “To descend is to ascend”—the more we humble ourselves, the more God will lift us up.
A Secret Room: Many saints say the secret room is the one inside our hearts. Whether working or at home, we can enter that secret place where no one else can go, and our “Father who sees in secret” will reward us and join us, for he delights when humble people like ourselves sequester ourselves to visit with him.
A community of faith is a real support to us as we seek to live out something deeper. Jesus insists on the interior and not the exterior: it seems that the religious people of his time valued the exterior very highly. And this may have been a strong witness for the faith. Jesus calls us back to the interior life: private prayer, private giving, and private devotional practice.
Closing Prayer: Lord, I close my door to others’ eyes, go to my secret room where no one else but you can see me, and present myself; small and lowly. Allow me to experience your delight at seeing me in secret. When my sins accuse me, saying, “I’m not good enough for you”, I will acknowledge that truth and pray for forgiveness and an increase in humility.