ASH WEDNESDAY GOSPEL COMMENTARY.
ASH WEDNESDAY GOSPEL
Mt 6:1–6 16–18
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, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
FROM THE NAVARRE BIBLE, GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW (WITH PERMISSION)
- 1-18 “Piety”, here, means good works (cf. note on Mt 5:6). Our Lord is indicating the kind of spirit in which we should do acts of personal piety.
- Almsgiving, fasting and prayer were the basic forms taken by personal piety among the chosen people — which is why Jesus refers to these three subjects.
- With complete authority he teaches that true piety must be practised with an upright intention, in the presence of God and without any ostentation. Piety practised in this way implies exercising our faith in God who sees us and also in the safe knowledge that he will reward those who are sincerely devout.
- 5-6 Following the teaching of Jesus, the Church has always taught us to pray even when we were infants. By saying “you” (singular) our Lord is stating quite unequivocally the need for personal prayer — relating as child to Father, alone with God.
- Public prayer, for which Christ’s faithful assemble together, is something necessary and holy; but it should never displace obedience to this clear commandment of our Lord: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father”.
- The Second Vatican Council reminds us of the teaching and practice of the Church in its liturgy, which is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows … The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with others, but he must also enter into his bedroom to pray to his Father in secret; furthermore, according to the teaching of the Apostle, he must pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10 and 12).
- A soul who really puts his Christian faith into practice realizes that he needs frequently to get away and pray alone to his Father, God.
- Jesus, who gives us this teaching about prayer, practised it during his own life on earth: the holy Gospel reports that he often went apart to pray on his own: “At times he spent the whole night in an intimate conversation with his Father. The Apostles were filled with love when they saw Christ pray” (J. Escrivá, Christ is passing by, 119) (cf. Mt 14:23; Mk 1:35; Lk 5:16; etc).
- The Apostles followed the Master’s example, and so we see Peter going up to the rooftop of the house to pray in private, and receiving a revelation (cf. Acts 10:9-16). “Our life of prayer should also be based on some moments that are dedicated exclusively to our conversion with God, moments of silent dialogue…” (ibid., 119).
- 16-18 Starting from the traditional practice of fasting, our Lord tells us the spirit in which we should practise mortification of our senses: we should do so without ostentation, avoiding praise, discreetly; that way Jesus’ words will not apply to us: “they have their reward”; it would have been a very bad deal. ”The world admires only spectacular sacrifice, because it does not realize the value of sacrifice that is hidden and silent” (J. Escrivá, The Way, 185).
COMMENTARY FROM POPE BENEDICT XVI
Dear brothers and sisters, we have 40 days to deepen this extraordinary ascetical and spiritual experience. In the Gospel that has been proclaimed, Jesus indicates some of the useful instruments to accomplish an authentic interior and communitarian renewal: the works of charity (almsgiving), prayer and penance (fasting).
They are the three fundamental practices also dear to the Hebrew tradition, because they contribute to the purification of man before God (cf. Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18). Such exterior gestures, which are done to please God and not to obtain the approval and consensus of men, are acceptable to him if they express the determination of the heart to serve him with simplicity and generosity.
One of the Lenten Prefaces also reminds us of this with regards to fasting, as we read this singular expression: “ieiunio… mentem elevas: with fasting the spirit is raised” (Preface IV).
Fasting, to which the Church invites us in this particular season, certainly is not motivated by the physical or aesthetical order, but stems from the need that man has for an interior purification that detoxifies him from the pollution of sin and evil; it educates him to that healthy renunciation which releases the believer from the slavery to self; that renders him more attentive and open to listen to God and to be at the service of the brethren.
For this reason fasting and the other Lenten practices are considered the traditional Christian spiritual “arms” used to fight evil, unhealthy passions and vice. Concerning this, I would like to listen, together with you, to a brief comment of St John Chrysostom.
“As at the end of winter”, he writes, “the summer season returns and the navigator launches his boat into the sea, the soldier polishes his arms and trains the horse for battle, the farmer sharpens the scythe, the wayfarer strengthened, continues his journey, and the athlete sets aside his vestments and prepares for the race; so we too, at the start of this fast, like returning to a spiritual springtime, we polish the arms like the soldiers, we sharpen the scythe like the farmers, and as mariners we launch the boat of our spirit to confront the waves of senseless passions, like the wayfarer we continue the journey to heaven, and as the athlete we prepare ourselves for the fight by totally setting aside everything”(cf. St. John Chrysostom, Homily to the People of Antioch, n. 3).
TOPIC 1: HOW CAN YOU PREPARE WELL THIS LENT TO RESTORE AND DEEPEN YOUR FRIENDSHIP WITH JESUS?
We all have committed friendships. But sometimes, something goes wrong and we drift apart. The same goes in our relationship with Jesus. When we sin, we become disconnected with Him. As the Lenten season begins, we seek that friendship back, to be restored and resumed, to be given the freshness of grace the Holy Spirit can provide. Let us do our part as we journey together to the promise of Easter.
TOPIC 2: WHAT DO YOU NEED TO GIVE UP AND GIVE MORE THIS LENTEN SEASON?
Being the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, our gospel reading today emphasizes and focuses on the three most important acts of a devout Catholic, something handed down from the early Jews. In the next six weeks, as Christians and Catholics, we must settle down and spend more time in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We must also give up some things. Rev. Craig Gates summarizes these beautifully.
SEE AS WELL:
ASH WEDNESDAY: WHAT IS LENT? WHY THE ASHES?
Very important read in
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