Today Jesus warns us of the danger of hypocrisy. Both good works and prayer can be occasions for deceiving both ourselves and our fellow human beings. The tendency to pride is deeply rooted within us, and we almost instinctively want to show ourselves to be better than we are.
The problem of such pride is not necessarily that we consciously think too much of ourselves, but rather that we are too concerned with what others think of us and that we unconsciously compare ourselves to them. And the answer to hypocrisy and pride is not so much to pull ourselves down (which can just be an inverted form of pride) as to stop being so concerned with ourselves.
That is not so simple, but occurs as part of our growth in faith. In this Gospel Jesus gives us the key, which is prayer in secret, in the inner chamber of our hearts. For it is only by growing in faith in God, by focusing on Him and seeing ourselves in the light of His love, that we learn to be freed of our preoccupation with ourselves.
Outside the inner chamber are all things in time and space, which knock on the door. Through our bodily senses they clamour to interrupt our prayer, so that prayer is invaded with a crowd of vain phantoms. This is why you must shut the door. The senses of the body are resisted, that the spirit of prayer may be directed to the Father. This occurs in the inmost heart, where prayer is offered to the Father in secret. There ‘your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ This is a fitting conclusion to good counsel, not merely calling us to prayer but also showing us how, not merely calling us to give alms but also showing the right spirit for doing so. The instruction is to cleanse the heart. Nothing cleanses the heart but the undivided and single-minded striving after eternal life from the pure love of wisdom alone.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 6:1-13:
The Lord said, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father who are in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever.