Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”
There’s a reason this is the first words we hear from Christ this Lent. More than any other season, this is a time to be self-aware about our own piety. Give something up, yes. But not for the sake of telling your friends and family about how difficult it is. Do it for purpose of furthering your relationship with Christ. You cut something out of your life during this penitential season, in order to make more room in your life for Him.
It sounds cliché to talk about vain piety. Nobody thinks they are being vain when they are talking about their penances, or whatever Lenten challenges are. And I think most people aren’t trying to be. And by all means, don’t hesitate to seek support in your Lenten penances from your friends and family. None of us are alone in Christ. We are all on this journey of faith together. But if you find yourself talking casually with friends or coworkers about what you are doing this Lent, take a second to reflect on why. Am I sounding the trumpet before myself? Am I disfiguring my face so as to be noticed?
Even seeing me broach this topic must make me seem a hypocrite. I mean, here I am, writing a very public blog series in Lent, talking about how our Lenten practices ought to be done in solemn silence. Is this not merely me standing and praying on the street corner? And it’s true that I struggle a great deal with vanity. But Jesus is not saying to hide your piety at all times. Jesus gave alms very publicly, he prayed very publicly, and he lived a very public ministry. St. Paul wrote to entire churches about his own pious deeds. There is a difference between vanity and faithful love and support. We aren’t to withdraw within ourselves, hiding our faith and relationship with Christ from the world. We are a Church, first and foremost, and that means turning to each other for guidance, support, and even correction when we falter. We ought not to be braggarts, but we also ought not to be islands.
This is something I am trying to be much more aware of in my own life. It’s easy to find yourself only on the two extreme poles of isolation and pride. Lent is the perfect time to focus on finding that “golden mean”. So when you find yourself chatting with friends, family, coworkers, postal workers, pizza delivery folks, overseas tech support, or whoever else about what you’re doing this Lent, take a second to reflect on why you’re doing anything in the first place. Take a second to reflect on Christ.