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God’s “Secret Service”

18 Jun

Sermon on the MountIn today’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ Himself teaches us about the traditional expressions of Christian piety: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We hear about these things quite a bit during Lent, but really, they should be part of the fabric of the Christian life throughout the entire year. They purify our hearts and draw us closer to Our Lord and to our neighbor, especially the poor.

For that reason, one would think that it would be really edifying to see others fasting, praying, and giving alms. After all, good role models always help, right?

Yet, Our Lord’s recurring message today is to do these things in secret, when no one is looking, behind closed doors. Don’t even let your right hand know what the left hand is doing. The only one who needs to know the good that we’re doing is our heavenly Father.

But why is that? Why shouldn’t others be able to watch and learn from us?

The answer is that of course our actions should be edifying to others (cf. Mt. 5:16). However, as Our Lord explains in the course of His teaching, it is very easy for us to do things in order that others will notice us and think well of us. That’s pride, not good example. Sure, there are times that we do good things and others may notice, to their benefit. But our motive must always be  God’s glory, not our reputation. The best way to guard against the temptation to pride is to keep our acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving—as well as other acts of charity–to ourselves as much as possible. When we do that, we’re more likely to serve God and not ourselves.

And that’s the point, isn’t it?