Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Secret Place

I wrote yesterday about going into your inner “storeroom” to pray. The focus then was on keeping the door shut and seeing to it that any inner vermin are held at bay. But let us look today at the aspect of the hiddenness of this interior room.

When you enter into prayer, you are to do so in secret, says Jesus. Why is that? Because your heavenly Father is there and wants to meet you. Yet Jesus teaches us to pray, in the next couple verses: “Our Father who art in heaven...” Part of this mystery is that the God who is in heaven, who has universal dominion and terrifying majesty, wants to be encountered as a Father who meets us without fanfare in a hidden place. This double mystery is expressed in the invitation to the Lord’s Prayer in the Byzantine Liturgy: “Make us worthy…to call you ‘Father’, O God of Heaven…”

The Pharisees pursue the fanfare as they make sure everyone witnesses their acts of piety. The Lord assures us that they will get what they want—the praise of men—but nothing more. When you calculate your own reward, you will receive no gifts from the Father. But God sees those who pray in the secret place of the heart—He’s not looking at the attention-seekers—and the One who sees in secret will give the reward that is lasting and profound. Jesus says that God not only sees in secret, but that He is in secret. He makes his dwelling in hiddenness, in the quiet places where He is welcomed by those who love Him, those who respond to his invitation, for God loved us first.

God seems to love the secret inner places, out of which comes not only prayer, but also acts of charity and asceticism that are likewise hidden. When you fast, don’t let it show; when you give alms, don’t let anybody know. For prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in secret, Jesus gives the same response: your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

This should tell us something about the inner life of Christians. For one thing, it tells us that even external activities are meant to be part of our inner life, for we are to do them in secret, in honor of the heavenly Father who is in secret and who, seeing in secret, rewards with divine generosity. Too many Christians are like the Pharisees, who simply cannot do anything good without making sure there are some admiring observers around. And if there aren’t, we can always talk about our good deeds later. Then people will think highly of us for our piety, goodness, and advanced spirituality. Then we will have received our payment. Then the Father will reward someone else.

Of course, if it is inevitable that your good works are at times manifest—there should be somewhere, after all, that people can find goodness being practiced in this world!—then let it be only for the glory of your heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). But take care to let none of that glory rest on you. Go back quickly to the secret place of prayer and hidden works. Your Father is waiting for you there, with a reward.