This past Wednesday was the mark of the beginning of Lent. Many Catholics set off to Mass to have ashes placed upon their foreheads as an outward sign of our mortality. I was unable to attend Mass this year, the first in four years.
Of course that does not stop me from reading the Mass readings! One of the greatest investments I have made in my life after I became Catholic was buying the Magnificat Magazine. The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday reminded me of something, or rather someone.
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
A former co-worker and a friend of mine would always quote this verse, especially when she mentioned her opinions of Christians. How could one not blame her quoting the verse when we see everyday street-corner preachers yelling of the sin of the world and how people who do not turn to God will be place in the fiery hell. I, myself when I saw these people would run the other way. They made me uncomfortable or I would be annoyed by them.
Of course I know she also means those who would stand in front of an abortion clinic praying for those women who are choosing to kill a child. In my friend’s opinion and much of society feels you keep your faith in the confines of your inner world (house, church, etc.) the world doesn’t want to see it. They use this verse as the reasoning that if you follow Christ listen to him on this note most especially!
I do not think they understand truly what Jesus is mentioning in the verse. He is not saying you cannot pray outside, no he is saying when you pray do not pray for the efforts of having people notice you, you are playing the pawn to the devil in the sin of vanity.
Jesus is reminding us that yes, we must be the example, but we are not doing anything for ourselves, we are doing something because it is apart of us. Rather than thinking: Do they notice me? Do they notice the wrongs they are doing? We need to say: Am I showing off my faith rather than living my faith?
If we choose vanity as means of expressing our faith, than yes, we need to go into that inner place.
What can we do to when someone quotes that verse?
It is a difficult question to answer because no matter what you say in their minds you should never show your faith, yet you can mention to them that than no one should show their faith (Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.).
Of course they will mention that they do not follow Christ so they are excluded, you wish so much you can turn their words and tell, ‘no society says you should not show your faith, that means all’. But, we as Christians cannot do that, we must love our neighbor even if it ticks us off.
My best piece of advice is mention the background of Jesus’ teaching and if they do not like the answer, than pray. Difficult as it may be sometimes praying for them is all you can do.