There's been a change of season, and we suddenly find ourselves in Lent. I'm surprised to say that I'm going to miss Ordinary Time, and with all the snow that February has brought to Ohio, I hope that the season of Winter ends soon, too.
Lent is a time of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In the gospel for the Ash Wednesday mass, Jesus addresses all three. Although all three are good, motives are important, he tells us. Almsgiving is a matter of charity and justice to our fellow man. Don't, therefore, make it about yourself. Don't announce your generosity so that other will think well of you. I can't help but wonder whether we're doing the right thing when, for example, our Knights of Columbus council has a public relations officer, whose job it is to announce our good works to the world. Our intention is to let people know that we are active in the community, but does that intention contradict gospel principles? Similar advice is often given regarding the Church: if only people knew all of the good that she does, they would attack her less. I suspect that attempts to improve the public image of the Church by trumpeting her good works would only create knew avenues of attack. That does not mean that we should actively conceal our good works. The point is not that our works be hidden, but that they not be done just to be seen.
Our Lord's advice on prayer and fasting is similar. He assumes that we will pray and fast (you do fast, don't you? I need to work on it!). Again, the point is that we should not do it in order to be seen doing it. It's not a condemnation of public prayer. If you go out to eat at a restaurant, don't refrain from blessing the food because other might see you. Rather, bless the food because you are thankful to God for his providence in supplying the food, and not because other diners might see you pray and think well of you.
The season of Lent is about conversion. My own conversion seems to be an ongoing process. Though I might wish that it were done and over with, God has instead decreed that it will occur daily. Every day requires a turning from sin. Every sin requires a reconciliation with God, for sin damages that relationship. Paul reminds the Corinthians that we should seek this reconciliation so that God grace will not be received in vain. I mourn for all of the grace that has been poured out upon me, seemingly to be wasted.
Our reconciliation and conversion is more than just external. Yes, God wants obedience, but what he desires is that our hearts be turned to him. Obedience will then be a fruit of love.