2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Come back to me with all your heart.
The words of the first reading set the theme for our reflections today; “return to me with your whole heart” says the prophet Joel, reminding us of one of the deepest truths and guiding principles of Jesus’ life – that our God is full of mercy and forgiveness and that God wants us to have life above all else.
And what kind of life does God wish for us? Perhaps the gospel text offers us the answer in three words – authenticity, integrity and belonging.
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them” says Jesus. The challenge of the Word today seems to be that of orienting us towards a balance and integration of our inner motivation and outward actions.
Jesus highlights how easy it is to perform – for the crowd, for our own ego satisfaction and for faint and shallow praise, when our true needs are much more important and worthwhile. That is, our deepest longings are only satisfied in our relationship with our God where we can be out true selves and can find all that we need. Thus as Augustine noted, yes “we are restless” – we strive and seek to be ‘real’, but we can become so distracted in this search. It is only when “our hearts rest in God” that we can find our true authenticity, integrity and belonging.
But until we are totally and finally encapsulated in God’s love, we strive to find our way. Jesus does not draw up a map for us, but he does give us a powerful guide, an inner compass if you like. In the vision of Jesus, in order to find our way to our true self (and thus our own intimate relatedness to God) we need to strive to make our outer actions mirror what God’s own Spirit is already prompting within us.
Thus we give alms not to win praise or acclaim, but so that we can imitate the life of Jesus and mirror his option for the poor.
We pray not to be seen as holy, but so that we might be in communion with the God who created us and loves us always.
We fast, not to attract the attention of others, but so that we might bring higher values to bear on more basic or self-centered desires.
To me these seem to be the thoughts that underpin all that Jesus teaches and comments on in this gospel today – a gospel text which introduces us to the season of Lent and more so to the opportunity to put into place some practice or discipline that stands as an outward sign of our inner desire to grow and to become more of the person that God sees.
Let us enter this season of renewal wholeheartedly and with a deep appreciation of the opportunity it affords us to grow both practically and spiritually in our Christian life.
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.