Today is the first day of Lent: «Now is the day of salvation!» (2Cor 6:2). The application of ashes reminds us of two ideals; the ancient one: «Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you will return»; and the one which the Council's renewed liturgy has introduced: «Repent, and believe in the Gospel». Both thoughts are an invitation to look at our own life in a different way —normally, so superficial. Pope Saint Clement I reminds us that «our Lord wants all whom He loves to become converts».
In the Gospel, Jesus is asking us to give to the needy, to fast and to pray far from any hypocrisy: «Do not announce it with trumpets» (Mt 6:2). Hypocrites, strongly condemned by Jesus Christ, are characterized by their heart's falsehood. However, today, Jesus warns us not only against subjective hypocrisy but also against the objective one: that is, to fulfill, even in good faith, all that God's Law and the Scriptures command, but doing it only for those who may be watching, without the corresponding intimate conversion.
It is then, when alms —reduced to “a mere tip”— are no longer a fraternal act but they are limited to a soothing gesture that does not modify the way we look at our brother nor let us experience the charity of paying to him the attention he deserves. Fasting, on the other hand, remains as the formal compliance of an obligation, that does no longer reminds us of the need to restrain our compulsive consumerism nor of the necessity to be cured of our “spiritual bulimia”. Finally, praying —reduced to a sterile monologue— is no more the authentic Spiritual overture, the intimate dialogue with the Father, the attentive listening to the Gospel of the Son.
The religion of the hypocrites is sad, legalist and moralist, of a big narrow-mindedness of spirit. Alternatively, our Christian Lent is every year's Church's invitation to a more intimate deepening, to a demanding conversion, to a humble penance, so that, while producing the pertinent fruits our Lord expects from us, we may fully live Easter’s joy and spiritual pleasure.