When and How To Be Seen

– Wednesday 11th Week in Ordinary Time –

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. [Matthew 6:16-18]

It’s a passage from the gospels with which we are so familiar. A big deal is made of it in the opening days of every Lent. We are implicitly continually reminded, ‘stop pulling faces to show you’re giving up your coffee’ or whatever fasting we have decided to try.

But who does that anyway? The cultural context has changed. Except within very limited circumstances, most of us wouldn’t identify with the deep desire to draw attention to our spiritual practices. In fact, we tend to wrestle with the opposite temptation – downplaying what we are doing so that people don’t notice.

I was watching a rerun of Downtown Abbey recently and saw such a scene. Lady Mary was caught praying beside her bed by her rather grumpy younger sister, Lady Edith. As it happened, Mary was praying for the man she loved and who was in harm’s way at the front during the First World War. Edith’s response was a triumphant accusation – ‘you were PRAYING!’ Of course, Mary denied it…

There is a world of difference between praying, fasting or almsgiving to attract attention and being prepared to be people who pray, fast and assist those in need, irrespective of what people might think of us. The first situation is probably not something that plagues you. But the second?

How will you appropriately live and share your faith with people you know and love today – irrespective of their approval?


by Shane Dwyer

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