All of us have secrets: secret thoughts, secret feelings, secret fears, hopes and desires. All of us know more about ourselves than we care to share with others. We allow others to think we have pure hearts, but we know that we harbor impure thoughts. We hope others will notice how unselfish we are, yet we know that selfishness still resides in us. We want people to see us as strong and courageous, but we know that often we are weak and afraid.
We live with secrets, all of us. We’re sometimes shocked when we learn something about a person that we never would have guessed, something that had been hidden from us. But the truth is that we will never fully know even the closest of our friends and companions. We are mysteries to each other, like icebergs of which we can see only the tip. And we are mysteries to ourselves. We will never fully understand why we think and act in the ways we do. Only God knows the secrets of our hearts.
Jesus often exposed the secrets of others. He perceived the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He discerned the true motives of the crowds that followed him. He saw into the hearts of his disciples. He knows our secrets. He knows that what we do on the outside does not always match up with what is going on within us. We may appear to be seeking God and trying to do what is right, and yet inwardly we are preoccupied with the impression we are making on other people. We may give the appearance of serving God, but it may not actually be God’s approval that we are seeking, or God’s purposes that we are trying to advance.
Jesus knows that sometimes we pray in order to be seen by others. He knows that some of us fast or give alms, secretly hoping that others are taking notice. He sees that we are pleased if others recognize our generosity and devotion, and express their gratitude and admiration. He knows our human hearts.
As is often the case, there is both bad news and good news here. The bad news is that we are human, that our hearts contain both good and evil, that we often are not all that we could be. The bad news is that too often we can be prisoners of what others think about us, obsessed with winning the affection or admiration of some particular person or persons. The bad news is that we are capable of deception and deceit, of hypocrisy and arrogance, of dishonesty and pride. Every one of us has plenty of reasons to kneel in repentance today.
But here’s the Good News: Jesus came for sinners. He was born, lived and died, and was raised again for people like you and me. When he lived among us, he preferred the company of sinful humans to that of righteous souls who believed they were pure and above reproach. He befriended tax collectors and prostitutes, and all sorts of ‘unrighteous’ folk. He made it clear that he had come not for the righteous, but for sinners. He insisted that his purpose was not to condemn, but to save. Even now, he unveils our hypocrises not to shame us, but to help us to see how much we need him, how much we need his divine life flowing through us, transforming and changing us so that our actions may become true expressions of who we really are, so that we can live authentically as God’s children in the world.
On Ash Wednesday, we receive the mark of ashes on our foreheads, not as a sign of our sanctity but as a sign of our humanness, as a sign of our poverty and our need. The God to whom “all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid” has promised to save us and to remake us. It is love that will rescue us and transform us, heal us and make us whole – and God’s heart is overflowing with love.
We kneel in repentance today. We acknowledge that we are human. We admit our poverty and our need. We ask the Savior to live his life within us, so that we may be transformed and healed and made pure. He knows the secrets that hide in the hearts of each of us because he created us, redeemed us and called us by name. It is his love that will make us whole. Take full advantage of this season of Lent to open your heart to him. “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.”
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.