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Homily for Wed of the 11th Wk in Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, 21 Jun 2023, Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Our Gospel today is actually the permanent Gospel text for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is about the three traditional “acts of piety” that are also recognized by Jews and Muslims: almsgiving, praying and fasting.

What is unique about this part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) is that he begins his teaching about each act of piety not by explaining HOW TO DO IT. He begins, rather, by instructing them HOW NOT TO DO IT. In all three instances, his point is basically the same: Do not do it with the intention of CALLING ATTENTION TO YOURSELF. Why? Because it loses its meaning that way.

Somebody once asked me in a Bible study session if Jesus is not contradicting himself when he says this because, earlier in the same Sermon on the Mount, in that part in Chapter 5 where he tells his disciples that they are called to be “salt of the earth and light of the world,” (vv.13-16) he seems to be saying the exact opposite. We actually read that Gospel passage on Tuesday last week, remember? There, in the part about the light, Jesus says, “You must let your light shine before people that they may see your good works…” (v.16a)

The person who raised the question to me seemed honestly confused. He said, “Why would Jesus say one thing at one point and say the exact opposite just a few verses later?” My answer to him was—“If you had completed the verse that you quoted, you would have easily understood that he was not contradicting himself. He was actually being consistent. What he said was, ‘You must let your light shine before people that they may see your good works AND GIVE GLORY TO YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.’”

Meaning, the intention should be—to CALL ATTENTION, NOT TO ONESELF, BUT TO GOD’S GOODNESS. That is why he’s saying, “If your true motive for the almsgiving, praying or fasting was to make a show in order to get noticed and you got the attention you wanted, then you already got your reward.” It had nothing to do with God anyway. It had to do with a basic need to cope with what psychologists call ATTENTION DEFICIT.

This is also the point of St. Paul in our first reading, which is a continuation of his famous “fund raising speech” in 2 Cor 9 which we started reading yesterday. What makes this fund raising activity initiated by Paul particularly interesting is the fact that he is appealing for financial help from Gentile Christians for the Jerusalem community. Wow, he was asking them to help the very people in Jerusalem who originally rejected them and who insisted that they had to become Jews first before they could be baptized as Christians. And the Gospel yesterday was about “loving our enemies!”

Now Paul is teaching the Corinthians to care for those who refused to welcome them. By doing this, he said they were reflecting the goodness of the Father in heaven who allows the sun to shine on the good as well as on the wicked, and allows the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. And so he says, “Become rich in every way, and give abundantly. What you give will become THROUGH US, a THANKSGIVING TO GOD.” (2 Cor 9:11)