Joel 2: 12-18; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
I believe this comes from something like Alcoholics Anonymous or a group like them who help those with addictions; they say that “you are only as sick as your secrets.” Addicts understand that idea because they know when things are held secret within, it often leads to destructive behaviors in the outside world. But we all understand secrets. People tell us things that they want to be kept secret and we tell others. We also know what it’s like when others share our secrets and we experience being violated by people we trust and so there is all this stuff associated with secrets; we feel it gives us some kind of power over others and that it often does make us sick.
And yet, during this season of Lent, it is in those secrets that God wants to meet us, within the secrets of our hearts that we want no one else to know. Three times we hear in today’s gospel about secrets: “Your Father who sees in secret will repay.” “Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” “Your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” In the very places that we feel vulnerable, that make us unlovable, that even God would not love us, that’s exactly where God wants to meet us and heal us, in the secrets of our hearts. If you read the entire text of Matthew, as he presents his version of the “Our Father” he even says that God already knows what we need and God already knows this stuff anyway, but it is us who have to confront and own-up-to those secrets within our hearts and souls.
Joel tells the people in the first reading that it is a stripping bare…we have to get rid of all those things that stand in the way, those externals, by rending our hearts, our anger, our addictions, so that we can begin to invite God into those very places He wants to go. Through prayer and fasting we begin to strip ourselves of all those things so that we can be loved in those very places that are wounded. It’s no wonder that Lent is so many weeks because it often takes that long for us to get to that point that we can let it go and the secrets can begin to be revealed and brought into the light for healing and redemption. I believe that if we allow ourselves to do that, the almsgiving will follow…we will experience that love of God like never before that the only thing we will want to do is share it with the poor and others.
My friends, as we enter into this Lenten season, we are invited to enter into those secret places within our hearts that make us sick on a spiritual level and begin to bring God into those places. He wants to meet us in those secrets so we can know and experience the redeeming grace, forgiveness, and the love that He desires for us.