MANILA, Philippines—Don’t fast and abstain to be sexy and slim. Don’t do charity for the sake of popularity.
During Mass in observance of Ash Wednesday, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle warned the Catholic faithful against engaging in “hypocritical acts” of sacrifice during the 40-day Lent.
Tagle called Lent a “wonderful, holy season” for the faithful to reawaken their desire to return wholeheartedly to God through prayer, alms-giving and fasting.
But these three disciplines of Lent, as taught by Jesus Christ himself, must always be practiced in order to find their way back to God, not to put themselves up and call attention to themselves, Tagle added.
Catholics across the country flocked to churches on Wednesday to have palm ashes traced on their foreheads in the form of a cross at the beginning of the Lenten season, which would be observed with fasting and abstinence, especially on all Fridays.
In his homily at the Arzobispado de Manila Chapel in Intramuros, Tagle said some Catholics would include fasting and abstinence merely as part of their beauty regimen to lose weight.
“On the eve of Ash Wednesday, they weigh 130 pounds. After the Lenten season, they only weigh 90 pounds. They tell themselves that they don’t need other beauty tips anymore because all they have to do is to fast,” he said.
There were also some faithful who would do charity work to become popular and as for some politicians, to make the headlines of newspapers and attract more voters, the cardinal pointed out.
“All these acts are not toward God but toward oneself,” Tagle said. “What does Jesus call these people? Hypocrites! [Those] engaging in religious activities not in order to return to God but to be full of self. That is not holiness. That is definitely not a way to return to God. That is hypocrisy.”
For a more genuine act of fasting, alms-giving and prayer, one must become poor so that others may become rich in God’s love—like a mother who gives her only food for her child to eat or a couple who cares for each other when one is sick despite an argument.
“That is what true prayer, true alms-giving and true fasting is all about. They are always of becoming poor so that others may become rich in God’s love,” said Tagle.
In prayer, the same must also be done, he said, explaining that one must sacrifice his time allotted for himself in order to be in communion with God.
While it would be pleasurable to spend time watching telenovelas, playing video games and window shopping, Tagle exhorted the faithful to spend a little less time for themselves this Lenten season.
“Let us be a little poorer in our time. [Let us have less] time for ourselves but [more] time to commune with God. And when we are poor because we commune with God, our relationships will be enriched. We will be more patient. We will be more kind and we will be more forgiving,” he said.
He also encouraged the faithful to change the ways of the world, where one becomes poor so that others can become rich. “That is not the spirit of Christ and the spirit of Lent. What Jesus did was he became poor so that others could prosper.”
Malacañang issued on Wednesday a statement calling on government officials and employees to go into quiet introspection during Lent and see whether “our lifestyle brings out good and is truthful, righteous, just, and above, all, in accordance with our Lord’s commandments.”
The statement, read by presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda at a news briefing, urged the bureaucracy to “continue to spread the good news in every sphere of human activity and strive to be beacons of hope, so that those who doubt and despair may see that, by working together, we can truly build a more just and inclusive Philippines.”
According to Malacañang, those who observed the Ash Wednesday ritual should bear in mind what the Scriptures said:
“For dust you are and to dust you will return. This reminds us that it is only through authentic service to our neighbors, and the commitment to truth and justice, that we can bring about meaningful change in our respective communities.”