“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 … to win the praise of others … 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.’” (Mt 6: 1-4)
This reading from Ash Wednesday inspires us to live our best, most authentic lives, without concern for public image. In fact, the theme of the priest’s homily at our school Mass was “authenticity.”
Jesus’ message seems simple. Created in God’s image, we must be true to him. Even behind closed doors, we must not succumb to a temptation to seem reverent or holy or kind but find our motivation in a genuine desire to reflect God’s likeness in doing what is right.
It’s interesting that on the same day we’re reminded to do the right thing “in secret,” we’re also called to go forth from Mass bearing a visible emblem of our faith, right in the middle of our foreheads. I know that I need to humbly proclaim that I am dust and to dust I shall return; yet, acutely aware of the large smudge of ashes in the middle of my forehead, I tend to feel less-than-humble. I sometimes worry that I am drawing attention to my efforts in being a faithful Catholic.
It’s difficult to understand how I can simultaneously do God’s will in secret and witness my Christian faith in the world. I think the solution to this apparent “contradiction” is to live with consistency between my private and public faces.
God wants me to be honest about who I am. He wants me to examine my conscience and to try harder to be my authentic self. He wants me to make prudent choices and to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
He also wants me to love others, act generously, and forgive earnestly; to wear my heart on my sleeve and my ashes on my forehead, as I represent him in this world. For, when we talk to God in secret, listen to his voice, and receive his grace behind closed doors, we are then called to act upon his counsel in our daily lives.
In public, we must act; yet, secretly we must recognize that God is our strength and inspiration in all good deeds. We must acknowledge that we deserve no credit for the work of God at our hands.
God knows we are not flawless, yet he desires our pure and honest motives, loving us us even when we falter.
Jenna Guizar, founder of Blessed is She women’s ministry, states: “God wants us, all of us. He doesn’t want the woman everyone else sees (on Instagram). He wants the woman I am when I am all alone. He wants the woman I am when I am with people who happen to be irritating me. He wants the woman who goes into work every day in a secular environment. He wants the woman who falls to habitual sin over and over and over again. He wants the woman who fears not being enough. He wants the woman who feels like too much.
“He wants me. And he wants you. All of you. The you who struggles with silence, the you who struggles with prayer, the you who struggles with knowing the right
words in all the wrong circumstances, the you
who struggles with self-confidence, the you
who struggles with pride. The you he sees in secret.”
During these Lenten days, let us reflect on Guizar’s advice: “… spend just five, ten minutes alone with our Father, just as Jesus encourages us to do. If Jesus, the Son of God, is encouraging me to do something, who am I to question him.”
And, our Father who sees in secret, will be with us every step of the way, seeing us, supporting us and influencing our thoughts and actions as we, authentically and humbly, strive to witness our faith to the world.