These are the first words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18) and are part of the Sermon on the Mount. He follows with particular admonitions to those who make a big show of giving alms, praying, and fasting. But the first thing I thought of was the particularly modern trend called virtue signalling (“commonly used as a pejorative characterization by commentators to criticize what they regard as empty, or superficial support of certain political views, and also used within groups to criticize their own members for valuing outward appearance over substantive action” — Wikipedia).
Just as it is not only proper, but a necessity, for Christians to give alms, pray, and fast (just search for these terms in the Bible or note that in this passage the Father will repay [reward] the one who does these things), we should also be not afraid to make clear our stances, rooted in Catholic teaching, on the pressing moral issues of the day.
But, if the expression of these positions consists of showing off to a large number of folks (and social media facilitates this quite well) without “substantive action,” as the definition above states, then one must look long and hard at his intentions. The “reward” for folks such as these is “received” in the accolades and awards. The repayment we desire is not from this world but from the next.
It seems that the appropriate place to begin to move from signalling to action is with the three meritorious deeds laid out in this reading:
- Give alms to support the causes that can be advocated morally and no longer contribute to organizations that militate against the good.
- Pray daily for the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth through the conversion of a culture that has “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator” (Rom 1:25). The “ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31, also see Jn 14:30) seems to be gaining ground, so prayer is an absolute necessity (see Mk 9:14-29).
- Fasting seems to be making somewhat of a comeback these days (beyond two days year), but so many saints anticipated us in this practice (see this article for examples). In preparing for His public ministry, Jesus “fasted for forty days” (Mt 4:2). Should we not also take up this practice so that we are prepared for what the world throws at us?
Let us be sure to do more than signal virtue. Supported by prayer and fasting, let us live virtuously (find an overview of the virtues in the Catechism of the Catholic Church here).