Here’s what I heard on Ash Wednesday about hypocrites (Gospel Mt 6:1-6, 16-18):
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; . . . . When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you . . . . When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. . . . . When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. . . . But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting . . . . And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
I do kind of feel like a hypocrite when I wear ashes to work.
Google defines HYPOCRISY ” claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretending to be what you’re not” So I’m walking out of church thinking, “What about us Catholics in Queens? Am I pretending to be a believing Catholic to impress somebody? Shouldn’t I rub off the ashes as soon as I leave St Mel’s?*
Let’s back up and try to think straight. Okay—Ash Wednesday begins Lent as prep for Easter which is supposed to jump-start my Christian faith for the rest of ORDINARY TIME. (Remember last month’s column?) Like spring training for the Mets (or the Yankees, except they never seem to us Mets fans to need extra help before they have a championship season).
Nowadays, most “Catholic experts” seem to say it’s better to do something for Lent rather than not do something the way the ”older generations” did, giving up candy or not going to the movies. (As rebellious teens before Vat II, we gave up cigarettes and smoked cigars instead.) Coming out of St Mel’s, I thought of something to do. Maybe new for most of you.
One important reason I go to Mass each Sunday is the reason I go to Mets games. I like to be with people who believe in the same things I believe in. To be a part of the action. And to be a part of the Mets or the Mass groups means acting together. Think community or bonding. For example, I first learned “high fives” from Mets fans, but I wasn’t surprised; we already had the handshake of peace at Mass every Sunday.
Bonding needs acting in unison (“as one”) with the crowd. Think of good times in a crowd and you’ll remember cheering, waving, swaying, clapping, singing–that’s how we show togetherness. It’s how we show our fellow fans and remind ourselves what we believe in. It’s part of the fun.
How about joining the fans at Mass? My Lenten suggestion: at every Mass you attend this Lent you pray the group prayers out loud and sing the hymns with your singing voice. No “I can’t sing” excuses. You sing Happy Birthday happily every time; you sing enthusiastically at concerts and ball games. (I have the same good feelings of belonging and pride when I sing “Sweet Car-O-line” at Citifield and “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” at St Mel’s.)
After all, aren’t we hypocrites if we pretend that we don’t believe what our fandom is saying about God using the ways Catholics have for 2,000 years. We don’t have a problem kneeling and standing at the traditional times in the Mass. For this Lent, just add your public voice to the event. If you try saying and singing with meaning, it can really be fun.
The love of Jesus reflected in this season reminds us that true love is a decision. Here’s a decision for you:
At Mass this Lent, will you be as good a Jesus fan as a Met (or Yankee) fan?
*For a traditional, but not very convincing, explanation of Jesus’ words, see https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/does-jesus-want-me-to-wash-off-the-ashes