Lent—Taking off the Mask

Wednesday, February 14, 2024
Ash Wednesday (Year B)

Readings for Today

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“When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do…
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites…
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites…” Matthew 6:2, 5, 16

Hypocrisy is an ugly sin. Essentially, being a hypocrite is being a fraud. The word itself comes from a Greek word referring to a mask that actors wear to depict their character. The person behind the mask would pretend that they were the person depicted by the mask. Therefore, a hypocrite is one who pretends to be who they are not.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus condemns those who give alms, pray and fast for the wrong reasons. Their almsgiving is not done out of charity and a desire to help, but out of an attempt to win the praise of others. They babble prayers on the street corner in an attempt to make others think they are holy. And when they fast, they make sure that their appearance looks “gloomy” so that others are impressed. Performing charitable works, praying and fasting are certainly good actions. But these actions must be authentic. Otherwise, they are not what they appear to be, and the one doing them is nothing other than an actor wearing a mask of virtue.

As we begin our Lenten season, we are each invited to take off the masks we wear so that the real person shines forth. We are especially called to combat any spiritual hypocrisy we struggle with for two important reasons. First, when people wear a mask of holiness, pretending to be more virtuous than they are, they sometimes end up even fooling themselves. Just as an actor may become so caught up in their character that they temporarily take on that character’s thoughts and feelings, so we also can become blinded by the truth of who we are when we habitually wear a mask of holiness. When that happens, we lose sight of who we are, where we need to grow, what we need to change and even what good there is within us. Lent is an important time for regaining authentic self knowledge so that we can grow in virtue.

It is also important to take off the mask so that others will benefit from our true selves. A person who pretends to be charitable, or pretends to pray, or pretends to be holy, cannot benefit others. God cannot authentically work through a hypocrite. Though the facade of holiness may seem appealing at first, the truth is that the real you, the authentic you, is the person that others want to know and will benefit from the most. Even your weaknesses and failures, when honestly faced, will become a source of strength and blessing for others.

Reflect, today, upon who you are. As your soul stands naked before the face of God, what does God see? Who are you? What masks do you wear? What is behind that mask? Use this Lent to look more deeply into your soul so that you will discover the person you are. Don’t be afraid to discover your sins and weaknesses. And don’t be afraid to see your authentic goodness. Seek to be real this Lent, and God will be able to shine more brightly through you.

My authentic Lord, You wear no mask, have no facade. The purity of Your divine soul shone through Your human nature as You walked the Earth, and now You call me to share in that purity. Please help me to see the ways that I hide behind false virtue, so that I can discover my true self. As I do, please transform me and shine forth through my soul for all to see. Jesus, I trust in You.

Day One Meditations:
40 Days in the Desert40 Days at the Cross

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Saint of the Day – Saints Cyril, Monk, and Methodius, Bishop
(Not celebrated as a liturgical memorial this year because it falls on Ash Wednesday)

Resources for Lent

Scripture Meditations for Lent

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