In the Gospel from Matthew, we hear Jesus continuing his Sermon on the Mount. The teachings of the Beatitudes as well as the six antitheses are powerful lessons that can transform our lives when we put them into action. Today, Jesus presents common practices of living a life of faith. The key point he is making though has again to do with our end goal. As discussed yesterday, as his disciples we are called to be “perfect just as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Again perfection here is that our end goal is to be one with God. We are striving to become holy, to be saints, for the purpose of deepening our bond and relationship with God and each other.
Our being perfected in Jesus is a process whereby we become less and Jesus becomes more. What decreases is our focus on self, especially the ego-self, our sense of self-centeredness. Jesus provides for us three ways in which we can practice drawing closer into communion with God and one another. We are to give alms, pray, and fast. We may remember these as being the three pillars of Lent that we put extra emphasis on during that penitential season.
Jesus informs us that when we give alms, pray, and fast, our intent must be properly ordered. If we give alms with the intention to “win the praise of others” (Mt 6:2), pray in a public display “so that others may see” us (Mt 6:5), and in our fasting “look gloomy” and “neglect [our] appearance, so [we] may appear to others to be fasting” (Mt 6:16), then we are seeking to do so in such a way that the focal point is to be on us. We think to ourselves, how holy and pious we are. Instead, we are hypocrites because, in each of these actions, we are not seeking to improve our relationship with God, nor to build up his kingdom. The intent is to build up our own pride and ego by seeking to direct the focus is on ourselves.
Jesus calls us to be holy. What that means is that we are to give ourselves to others, to serve out of love, so that others may be healed, empowered, strengthened, and fulfilled. We are to seek Jesus in prayer with the intent of receiving the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit that we may be purged from that which feeds our false selves so that we can be freed of the dross of our accumulated sin, selfishness, and that which we are attached. In our time of prayer and examination of conscience, Jesus wants to reveal to us those apparent goods that lead us away from what will truly fulfill us. It is to these areas that we can fast. In these conscious acts of the will, we are to freely choose God over self and continue to mature into who he calls us to be.
In our prayer today, let us ask Jesus to reveal to us one way that we are putting ourselves before God, for him to reveal to us a pattern or habit of sin that keeps us bound to our own pride and prejudice, and/or something that we are attached to that we can fast from. And then one way we can reach out and give ourselves to someone else. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not only for Lent. There are many people that are in need of God’s support and help right now. We become the hands and feet of Jesus when we are willing to allow him to lead us to serve others with the love of the Holy Spirit and simply allow God to happen in our encounters.
Photo: A young friend saying hello. Time experiencing God’s creation is prayer and a wonderful way God can help to expand our hearts.