Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. ~ Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
As a child, I wondered about those ash crosses on the foreheads of Catholic children on Ash Wednesday. After all, Jesus Himself said to give alms, pray, and fast in secret. Weren’t these kids wearing the crosses of ash to show their piety? Many years later, as an adult, I joined a liturgical church, and every Ash Wednesday, I go to church for the Imposition of Ashes. But I don’t do it to show my piousness—I do it to remind myself of my sinfulness and my need for repentance. Those of us who follow this ancient practice—or most of us, at least—aren’t hypocrites wearing the mark of our Lord to be honored by men. In fact, in our society today, in many circles, we’re more apt to be ridiculed than to be praised. But ridicule or praise—it’s not man’s opinion that matters, but God’s. During Lent, we are called to examine our hearts, repent of our sins, and re-dedicate our lives to Christ. Wearing the sign of the cross on our foreheads can help us remember and focus on that.
Lord God, as we begin this season of Lent, show me my secret sins. Reveal the things I need to repent of, and give me the desire and the will to change them. Let the sign of the cross on my forehead be a reminder to me. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.