21 Jun Homily of the Vicar General at the Plenary Council
Homily – PCO Nairobi – June 20 ’18
Br. Julio Cesar Bunader, OFM – Vicar General
The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, in v.1 offers us a principle that defines the text when it says: “Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Mt 6,1).
Normally, the liturgy proposes that we meditate on today’s Gospel (Mt 6,1-6,16-18) during the Lenten season. On the occasion of the Plenary Council, a time to listen and discern, I consider it important to let ourselves be challenged by the words of Jesus, who warns us: do not act in order to be seen by others (see Mt 6,1). It is an exhortation where the term “righteousness” is used, in the sense of “good works” performed according to the will of God. Let’s consider some aspects:
Do good. We know that an action can be transformed into ineffective or incorrect practice, when the intention of the person who performs it is corrupted. If we apply it to the three typical works of piety: almsgiving (vv 2-4), prayer (vv 5-6) and fasting (vv 16-18), we can see that the evangelist highlights two different patterns of acting, which refer to two types of people: those who seek to be recognized by others, and those who perform the works in obedience to the will of God. Two expressions, two truths and intentions: those who seek self-fulfilment and gratification, and those who seek God in the secret of their own heart – the Father “sees what is done in secret” (Mt 6,6) -, stripped of themselves and possessed by God, a principle that influences them in the practice of good.
Honesty. Those whom Jesus is addressing, according to the Gospel, are the pious believers of his time. He clarifies that “doing good” may be motivated by the pursuit of self-interest. The exercise of righteousness may be threatened by the danger of the superficial, and even of hypocrisy (cf Mt 6,2.5.16). Let’s remember that “pretending holiness” has little or nothing to do with good works. On the contrary, they are actions taken to obtain prestige, including using people or the community to affirm one’s own ideas or interests. To this action and/or religiosity, the Gospel contrasts the faith that arises from an intimate relationship with the Lord – in secret (cf. Mt 6,4.6) – and grounded in sincerity. They are those who do not seek to be known by others (cf. Mt 6,18).
Gratuity. The gospel begins with the warning: Be careful! (v.1) Beware, he says, of the practice of righteousness and the motivations for exercising it. Jesus asks us to be alert to what lies beneath, that is: if I practice righteousness to look good, then it acquires a “negative nuance”, because the outlook is altered. It becomes a lack of authenticity and even injustice. If the achievement of good is expolited, with deeds that seek recognition of the people, applause will be received. On the contrary, “to practice righteousness” according to the Gospel, must be done in favour of others and for others, to be in tune with God’s will; these will be “rewarded” (cf. Mt 6,4.6.18). This affirmation comforts and encourages those who act in silence, in a hidden way and do not boast about the results.
I wish to conclude by recalling the exhortation of St. Francis of Assisi, in the earlier Rule: “Therefore, let all the brothers, beware of all pride and vainglory. Let us guard ourselves from the wisdom of this world and the prudence of the flesh.” […], because “he wants and desires to have a religion and a holiness outwardly apparent to people. In everything, let us strive “for humility and patience, the pure, simple and true peace of the spirit. ” (Rnb 17,9-16).
Brothers, let us ask God the Father to help us with the Spirit to follow Jesus Christ, in simplicity and truth of life, so that our mission may be the proclamation of the “joy of the Gospel”. May the closeness among the brothers help us in the “practice of righteousness”, in making visible the treasure that is hidden in our hearts (cf. Lk 6,45): “the good things the Lord reveals to us” (Adm. XXI). Amen.