Psalm 51:3-6, 12-14, 17
2 Corinthians 5:20 -- 6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
“The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” This quote from T.S. Eliot comes in a play where a saint is tempted by many things but does not give in, and then the final temptation arrives: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” If Satan could convince us to not fast at all this Lent, he would. If not, he will try to get us to fast in a silly way, to give up chocolate chip cookies for Lent, as we eat brownies instead, or, perhaps, we obey the abstinence from meat on Fridays by having a feast of shrimp and lobster. If we are not taken in by any of this, the last temptation comes: “to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” We fast, in order to impress people. We fast, in order to lose weight. We fast, in order to fulfill some New Year’s resolution.
Jesus told us to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love is the heart of Christianity, but our love is weak and disordered. We do not love God with all our heart and soul and strength, so we need to spend time in prayer this Lent. We do not love our neighbors who are created by God, our brothers and sisters, so we need to give away that which we love more than them, our money and our time. We do love ourselves, but we love ourselves in the wrong way; we should love ourselves like parents, with some discipline, having our best interest at heart, but, instead, we love ourselves like senile grandparents, over-indulging ourselves with candies and toys, so we need to start refusing ourselves treats sometimes. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are good for us. They should hurt. Our souls complain about being unselfish. Do not give in to the complaints! Our souls warn us that this is too much, too much prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; it will kill us: without selfish indulgence, we will die. Good! Let us die. Let us be nailed to the Cross with our Savior. Then, when Easter comes, he can raise us up.
Our souls are flabby and out of shape. The combined effect of all the sins we commit is puny, scrawny, pathetic souls. We are in serious need of spiritual exercise: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If we make feeble attempts, we will get feeble results. It is 44 days from now until we celebrate the Easter Triduum, we get 4 days of introduction and then, on Sunday, the 40 days of Lent begin. The lazier we are, spiritually, the rest of the year, the more seriously we should look to these days as a time of intensive effort, P40X for the soul.
If we are going to make this intensive effort, we had better be sure that we are doing it for the right reason. If we fast and tell people about our fasting, if we give to the poor our money or our time and make certain that the world is aware of our generosity, if we pray so that others will see us, all that effort will be wasted. Only our pride will be strengthened; our souls will be weakened further.
Let us pray until we fall head-over-heels in love with God. Let us give away our money and time until we begin to love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us fast until our love for ourselves is no longer self-indulgent. When we look out and see the canyon between us and heaven, we want to move forward, we want to take the leap of faith, but we are afraid, afraid of many things, but especially frightened that we will begin to live a new life and soon fail and be laughed at for ever trying. Lent is our training ground, our opportunity to try out the life of the Saints. If we cannot be perfect all year-round, let us be perfect for forty days straight.