During Lent we are to focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These were the focus of Matthew’s Gospel which were read on Ash Wednesday. (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18)
We can do these for the wrong reasons, wanting to be seen or praised by others who observe us carrying these actions out in practice. A form of pride can set in. We can do these because of the publicity or praise that we may receive. Complacency can also creep in to these activities. Our motives can be all wrong.
A secret kind of peace and tranquility can come from the performance of these things as well. We begin to feel good about ourselves for having done something charitable or difficult or because reason has told us these are good and noble things in themselves.
St. John of the Cross reminds us that we should do these things with a totally different attitude:
“For the sake of directing their joy in moral goods to God, Christians should keep in mind that the value of their good works, fasts, alms, penances, and so on, is not based on quantity and quality so much as on the love of God practiced in them; and consequently that these works are of greater excellence in the measure both that the love of God by which they are performed is more pure and entire and that self-interest diminishes with respect to pleasure, comfort, praise and earthly or heavenly joy. They should not set their heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor, and other elements of self-interest these good works and practices usually entail, but recollect their joy in God and desire to serve him through these means.” (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk III, 27,5)
Therefore, we should do all our Lenten fasts, prayers, penances, and alms with more love and to do them for God, remembering that only God needs to be pleased and joyful over the works we do. Also, we should remember that our saint also pointed out that the quantity and quality are not that important. Any little thing done with love and for God is what is most important. May our Lenten practices be carried out with more love.