Embracing interiority through prayer and reflection

“Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Feb 10, 2024


By Fr Fio Mascarenhas, SJ
Ash Wednesday (February 14) begins another Lenten Season. But what is Lent all about? It is not mainly a time for more penance and sacrifices, as popularly believed, but its focus is, and must be, on cooperating more with the Holy Spirit in the difficult task of transforming “me” and “us” into “other Christs.” Jesus is the Model for every Christian, in all seasons.

Pope Francis has suggested that in preparation for next year’s Jubilee of the Redemption, all Christians should make 2024 a special Year of Prayer. And personal prayer is where Jesus has given us an outstanding example to imitate! Jesus increased in “wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour” (Luke 2:52). How? By His never omitted, never shortened, personal prayer! In His childhood, His youth, and in His adulthood, and especially in the two-three years of very busy public ministry before His Death, Jesus made time to be alone with His Father in heaven, and not just for a few rushed minutes, but He would spend long hours communing with His Abba, as all the four Gospels testify.

He also made the effort to become familiar with the Scriptures, so that even at the tender age of 12, He could hold His own while discussing with the learned teachers in the Temple of Jerusalem: “All who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Luke 2:47). So, His daily prayer-time consisted of contemplation on the Word of God and on nature, in loving intercourse with His Father, and in intercession for various needs (“Peter, Satan has desired to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you” (Luke 22:31).

So, it is a convenient fallacy for us to think that we have spent Lent well if we have just abstained from meat on Fridays, fasted on two stipulated days, made other small sacrifices here and there, and given small alms occasionally — these are all only external actions! Whereas Lent is a time to help us think like Jesus, feel like Jesus, and act like Jesus! Christianity is not a religion of mere rules and observances, but of interiority.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has emphasised such interiority. “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23, 24).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’’ (Matt 5:27-29).

“Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt 6:1-4).

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, Who is unseen. Then your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt 6:5,6).

To conclude, here is a quote from St Paul’s Letters which best characterises a Lenten Spirituality of interiority (and which in turn I want to see verified in my own Christian life):

Gal 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live but Christ Who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me!”

What about you, dear reader? Please choose some special NT texts to guide your own personal Lenten spirituality!


(Fr Fio Mascarenhas SJ is a retired Bible teacher and retreat director. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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