As the light of Easter morning slowly begins to lighten the horizon of our Lenten journey (seriously you guys, can you believe I’m writing this stuff for you for FREE?), I thought I would address a concern that seems to plague good Catholics all year, but especially during Lent . . . the idea that for a sacrifice to count it must be painful and secret, and that if you get a benefit from your sacrifice on Earth, you somehow forfeit any reward in Heaven.
|Death Valley National Park|
I just don’t think it’s true. I don’t think it stands up to the natural law test, nor to an examination of the relevant scripture passages.
First things first, God is GOOD. He desires our perfection above all things, but He does not will our suffering. He will accept our suffering, of course, but if we can train ourselves in virtue like we would train for a marathon and exercise our virtue muscles like we would exercise our actual muscles (I’m still on the marathon analogy, bear with me) then, with practice, doing the right thing hurts a lot less. Just like with running.
But that doesn’t mean God values that sacrifice any less.
If a painter creates beautiful works of art for love of God, but also really enjoys doing it, is God less pleased? If I make the decision to let my children choose first from the leftovers and the last thing on the counter is the sweet potato and the spinach salad, my favorite!, does that mean I don’t get “credit” for having decided to make that sacrifice? I say no.
But what about all those Bible readings we hear at the beginning of each Lent that tell us to keep our sacrifices painful and secret? Well, let’s take a look at them, shall we?
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.2 “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. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
It makes me think about the people who are conflicted about these:
assuming that if they TELL people that they are giving up facebook for Lent, then it won’t count. But the way *I* read Matthew 6, is: if the reason that you give up facebook for Lent is so that you can put up a “fasting from facebook” icon and all of your facebook friends will marvel at your piety, and NOT because you believe it will bring you closer to God, well then yeah, you’re probably not going to get a Heavenly reward for that. BUT if, rather, you are giving up facebook because you believe it will help you to love God more and better, but you also don’t want your best friend from high school (hi Keeley!) or your dad’s cousin who lives out of state (Hi Carole!) to think that you are ignoring them or are dead, it’s just good manners to inform them of the reason for your absence. Right?
“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. 6 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 what about Catholic bloggers? If I blog about what I plan to give up for Lent, does that mean it cannot benefit me? Or if someone posts a prayer to his facebook timeline, does that mean he didn’t pray it? Only if we are only doing those things “so that they may be seen by others.” If we are doing those things for love of God and neighbor, then surely our Father will reward us. EVEN IF we are incidentally seen or even admired by others. Mother Theresa, the Mexican martyrs, every single Pope, they were all certainly seen praying by others. But that was not WHY they were praying.
|via the Curt Jester|
“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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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.
Here, I think, is the key. If my sacrifices are making me miserable then I’m not doing them right. God does not want me miserable, he wants me holy. Those two things are mutually exclusive.
If we are joyful givers (and joyful giver-uppers) people are bound to notice. People are bound to wonder what it is we have that they don’t. They might even ask us about it. It might even change everything for that person, and wouldn’t that be nice?
Hey, there are a few days left to sign up for the All for Jesus Lent Challenge hosted by me and Monica from Equipping Catholic Families in which you can get an Earthly reward to go along with your Heavenly one for all that great stuff you’ve been doing this Lent.