My Dear Friends in Christ
May the Grace and Peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you as we begin this Lenten journey. Jesus’ words in the gospel today illustrate the importance of not allowing our faith to become too showy. He says, “…But when you give alms do not let you right hand know what you left hand is doing so that your almsgiving will be in secret…But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret…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.” After each of these statements, Jesus adds, “And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you." Part of the reason that Jesus is concerned about this is because of the fear of hypocrisy. The word hypocrisy comes from two Greek words, “hypo” meaning above and “Krises” meaning judgment. So a hypocrite believes that they are above judgment, that the rules they enforce don’t apply to other people. A few years ago, Saturday Night Live had a skit mocking a person they called the Church lady. The church lady would invite celebrities onto her talk show and mock them for their alcohol and drug riddled extravagant lifestyle. She wasn’t trying to help them, more just making fun of them. That’s what frustrated Jesus about the Pharisees and what he never wanted his followers to turn into.
However, it seems to me that there is a bigger problem in today’s world than people being too public, too showy, or too judgmental in their faith. Back at the time of Jesus and up until fairly recently, everyone would have willingly showed their faith in private and in public and Jesus was trying to make sure that they matched up with each other by making sure that their private lives matched their public expression, indeed that the private was more important than the public expression. In recent years, the bigger problem is when people don’t allow their public lives to be affected by their faith. It’s true that we don’t want to believe ourselves “above judgment” like the Pharisees of old but Jesus also wouldn’t say that our faith should be so private and personal that we don’t correct the immorality of others. This is part of what St. Paul was talking about in the second reading today in being ambassadors for Christ. In the end, it’s all about living an integral life, a life where our words match our deeds, both of which also match our faith. So, for instance, when someone comes to us struggling with same-sex attraction we don’t just put away our faith and encourage them to follow cultures attitude of “whatever feels good is also morally good” but we also don’t turn our backs and call the person an evil sinner. Because we recognize our own sins, we humbly and with love encourage them to live a life of celibate chastity as they have been called to do so by God.
In this Ash Wednesday liturgy, we are marked by ashes and reminded that our life on earth will one day come to an end, that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. Part of what we resolve to do during Lent is to live a moral life and help others to do so as well. We do so not from a morally superior position of judgment but as one who recognizes our own need for God’s love and forgiveness and wants to help others know about it as well.