Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you….
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.
The new life of Spring is all around us, or soon it will be. The days are lengthening. It is the season of Lent. The word ‘Lent’ comes from ‘lengthen’. This is not a gloomy season; the Liturgy calls it “this joyful season.”
The Liturgy is helping us to look to the roots of things to ensure that the new life will come from a deep place. You could arrange today’s Gospel passage in two columns; at the head of one, you could write IN SECRET, and at the head of the other TO BE SEEN. Read the passage again and see this for yourself.
One is left in no doubt that a deep truthful interiority is essential to a Christian life. A tree has to sink its roots deep into the ground, otherwise it comes down in the first storm (or perhaps it doesn’t, because it has never been able to raise itself up).
If you project your imagination down into the ground where the roots are, you find a strange world of darkness, silence and stillness. How frightening darkness can be, especially when it is filled with strange unaccountable shapes! How deathly silent it is down there! And it is like the tightest prison imaginable; nothing ever moves.
This is the opposite of the world above ground; there you have light, noise, movement.
We human beings are like trees. There is a hidden half – hidden even from ourselves, hidden in darkness and mystery. And there is a half that is all light and noise and activity.
If we identify ourselves only with the public part, the part ‘above ground’, we will not be able to withstand the storms of life, and we will have no profound resources for growth. Our actions, our lives, like trees, emerge from a rich darkness, silence and stillness.