Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In the Gospel reading for Mass on Ash Wednesday, Jesus discourages his disciples from seeking praise or drawing attention to themselves when they pray, fast and give alms.
“When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,” he says. “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. … When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. … Anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting.”
Each time, he tells them it is enough for God to see what they are doing; he will reward them.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Church’s 40-day Lenten season when we focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Why does Jesus caution his disciples to do these practices quietly and without fanfare?
I think Jesus was reminding them — and us today — that we pray, fast and do charitable works for his glory, not ours. During the Lenten season, we pray, reflect and participate in acts of charity and sacrifice to bring about an inner conversion as we seek to follow Christ more closely and hone an outer focus to better serve our brothers and sisters created in His image, particularly the poor, vulnerable and marginalized in our communities. We empty ourselves of things like vanity, convenience and selfishness to fill ourselves instead with the love of Christ and all that it calls us to.
This Lent, as I do every year, I encourage you to spend more time in prayer and reading the Scriptures. Participate in Lenten devotions, such as the Stations of the Cross at your parish. The annual Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl program (www.crsricebowl.org) is a great way to enter into prayer, fasting and almsgiving in solidarity with others around the world.
I also encourage you to participate in the sacrament of confession, even if it has been a long time since you last did so. It’s a sacrament of mercy that helps us get right with God and with how we treat others.
I realize that these last two years living with the coronavirus pandemic has also required you to make many sacrifices for the benefit of others. I want to thank you for all you have done, and continue to do, to care for one another during this challenging time.
I pray that you and your loved ones have a holy and blessed Lenten season that prepares you well for the joy and hope we will celebrate at Easter.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud
Top image: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz