In today’s readings for Ash Wednesday, we encounter Jesus in the midst of the “Sermon on the Mount” from the Gospel of Matthew. As my friend, Fr. Bill points out, the entire context of these verses is that prayer, fasting, and alms giving are a “given.” Jesus is operating out of the understanding that faithful people already are doing those things. In other words, Jesus doesn’t recommend a new set of practices, rather he addresses the underlying attitude about those practices.
I suspect most of us turn to the part of the Sermon in which Jesus seems to counsel doing these things away from the public eye. And that is true to a point. Consider this: what if you are a complete curmudgeon about the Lenten practices and simply take your less-than-admirable attitude behind closed doors – what good is that? I would think that one’s attitude easily leaks out into the world and rubs off on those around you as you go about your day dour and grumpy.
There are many possible causes about such a sullen response to the beginning of Lent. Perhaps you are put off because the local Mardi Gras activities were cancelled or so reduced as to hardly have been worth it. Maybe in this time of pandemic when we have already given up so much, now we are being asked to give up the solace of good food for the practice of fasting – it doesn’t seem fair. Perhaps some similar thoughts about prayer and alms giving?
Fr. Bill thinks some of the problem lies in the “three A’s” – applause, approval and admiration. He might be onto something there. We live in such a socially connected world – some of us anyway. One of the consequences of our posting, chatting, etc. is that we are used to getting likes, followers, and all the rest, and we are immersed in the three A’s. For a world that takes pictures of restaurant dinner plates and broadcasts to friends, family and followers the content of their evening’s repast (and the fine dining establishment serving it all) – broadcasting one’s fasting dinner plate has less appeal. It also seems quite against the spirit of Lent. This all might be a bit of a stretch, but Lent is a time for intention and mindfulness, so it is at least worth exploring.
Take aways? The three Lenten practices…are they really part of our routine spiritual life? Or does Lent remind us to do these things? And what is our dependence on the three A’s?
Interesting in some additional reading on fasting? Here is a post from several years ago.