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BRAINTREE -- The Pastoral Center's Bethany Chapel was full to capacity as Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley led the celebration of Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 26.
Cardinal O'Malley delivered his homily before the distribution of ashes. Looking at the reading from Matthew's Gospel, in which Jesus talks about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the cardinal spoke about the importance of motives that prompt religious acts.
"The Pharisees were great at public prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But it was more a case of spiritual one-upmanship than an act of penance. Jesus is urging us to look at our motives and to avoid temptation to do religious acts in order to increase our prestige," Cardinal O'Malley said.
He said that the human tendency to keep up appearances can undercut the true purpose of religious acts, which is to grow closer to God.
"Acts of piety have to be done with the proper inner attitude or they don't adhere to their purpose, and our only real reward will be the passing notice of people rather than growing closer to our God," he said.
He spoke about how Lent can be "reduced" to a time of setting health-related goals, such as improved diet or increased exercise.
"These acts of discipline can be spiritually beneficial if they help us to overcome our self-indulgence and unhealthy behavior. But the success of our Lent cannot be measured by the number of pounds we lose or how many steps we take each day," Cardinal O'Malley said.
He suggested that fasting be coupled with almsgiving, using the resources that would go toward one's own comfort to instead help the poor. He also said that Lent is a good time to examine one's prayer life and seek reconciliation in relationships.
In closing, Cardinal O'Malley explained the symbolism of the ashes, which "betoken the fragility of life," and the sign of the cross, which indicates that "the dust has been redeemed by the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ."
"Ash Wednesday is not meant to be a morbid reflection on death, but a serious reminder that life is always short and we must be good stewards of the time, talent and treasure that we have received," he said.