Continuing with the Sermon of the Mount, Christ confirms the importance of long-held practices of piety (almsgiving, prayer and fasting) which draw men to God, authoritatively rebuking hypocrites who seek self-glorification from others through prideful conspicuous acts.

Christ affirms how disciples are to humbly and privately perform each practice to draw closer to and receive rewards from God. Beginning with the need to provide for the poor and suffering, Christ directs His disciples to secretly give alms to the poor; alms (from Latin, meaning “pity, mercy”) are usually a gift of money to those who cry out in their suffering. Christ also confirms the importance of prayer, emphasizing the need for each man to enter into deep private prayer with God, as He demonstrated numerous times (Matt 14:23; Mark 1:35). Christ also emphasizes the need to fast, promising God sees and rewards humble fasting.

Christ condemns the hypocrites who make a public spectacle of almsgiving, prayer and fasting to bring attention to themselves; those who seek public glory for pious acts lose their Heavenly reward.  Christ does not condemn public acts which draw men together in God: He desires for men to do good deeds to proclaim His Name (Matt 5:16); Christ and His Church emphasizes the practice of communal prayer (Matt 18:20; Acts 1:12-14); the Church has appointed days of communal fasting.

1) With the Authority of God, Christ is bold, courageous and harshly criticizes those who pervert pious practices and create scandal (leading others into false practices). Marvel at Christ’s wisdom and mercy with which He calls sinners (hypocrites) from their false practices and provides clarity on almsgiving, prayer and fasting.

2) Lent (meaning “long days”) is the ancient 40-day liturgical pilgrimage beginning with Ash Wednesday (ashes reminding of unavoidable death) in preparation for Easter (and eternal life in Christ).  Lent recalls Christ’s 40 days of fasting and prayer in the desert in preparation for public ministry; all Catholic men are called to deep repentance and to prayer and fasting during Lent. Renew your understanding of Lent (CCC 540, 1095, 1438) and pray for Christ to help you to rigorously participate in Lent this year.

3) While not a Holy Day of Obligation, all Catholic men should enter into Lent by fasting and attending Mass. Review the Catechism’s teaching on Fasting (CCC 538, 1434, 2043), prayerfully prepare your personal Lenten vows (promises of sacrifice for Christ during Lent) and present yourself to Christ in the Mass of Ash Wednesday.