When you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites (Matthew 6:16)
The message of Jesus in this Gospel is a very clear one: let your giving, your fasting and your praying be done not for show, in public, but in private for love of God. Those who practice their faith in the public eye - Jesus says - already have their reward.
How times have changed! At the time of Jesus - and up to perhaps only 30 or 40 years ago - to practice the faith in public, to be seen at prayer, going to Mass, to be observed giving large amounts to the Church, to be seen to be thoroughly observant - a ‘big catholic’ as they used to say - well that counted for something. And not just for catholics, either. The ladies in the parish churches with their big hats and disapproving looks, the insistence on the Sunday best, attendance at chapel or Sunday School were expected practices in society. Not so any more.
Now, the practice of religion might attract curiosity or ridicule. At work or school - even a catholic school - it may be very unfashionable, uncool, to practice religion.
So what does the Gospel say to us?
Well of course, Jesus isn’t saying that it is the open practice of the faith that is wrong, but the practice of the faith for the wrong reasons. The practice of our faith must never be to attract attention to ourself, to gain approval from others, to make ourselves important or respected.
We live our faith not for ourselves, but for God. We help others because it is right to help others. We pray because we need to pray. We fast, or say the rosary or go to Mass or whatever it might be because in that we draw closer to Christ so that he may grow within us.
And so if we are known for our faith, or looked upon as unusual or strange or odd: to God be the glory!