Entering Lent today, we step away from our journey through Mark until after the Easter season. Ash Wednesday’s gospel reading is from Matthew chapter 6 (vv. 1-6 and 16-18). In this episode, Jesus tells his disciples the proper way to perform good deeds, to pray, and to fast. The way not to do it is the attitude of the “hypocrites” that Jesus refers to in each instance; they make it clearly known what they are doing so as to garner the praise of men. But Jesus says that these things should be done in secret and without any human person knowing that they are being done; although no one else is aware of it, “your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (v. 18) As we enter this time of preparation for Easter, when we should consider performing acts of self-giving and self-denial, today’s lesson is particularly appropriate. There is no need to boast about, or even mention, what acts of mortification or additional works you are doing during this time. If you have given up eating between meals, and there is a mid-morning office party, don’t partake. If asked, simply politely decline (“Thanks, but I’m fine”) — no explanation is necessary. If you’ve vowed to read the Bible for a half an hour during each lunch break, do so without fanfare. To the inquirer, say you are going to remain in your office to do some reading (“I really feel like staying in today”). If you’ve forsaken desserts, and you are at a dinner party, pass (“It looks absolutely delicious, but none for me — thanks so much for offering, though!”). And for goodness sake don’t complain (“It’s so hard to get up early for daily Mass”) or make excuses for bad behavior (“Giving up beer really has me on edge”) to others or yourself. If you are ever severely pressed on some matter or fear that you are offending others by declining offers, give as little information as possible, be self-effacing, and minimize the actual effort you are putting forth (“This is just a little something I’m doing to, in some small way, prepare for Easter.”). Family, good friends, and colleagues should respect that. In doing this, you will avoid Jesus’ admonition to not seek the praise of men, but rather honor His call to seek to give praise to God. And then He will work on the hearts of those you encounter through your humility and your honoring of His teaching.