Don’t be hypocrites, Tagle tells Catholics on Ash Wednesday

Paterno Esmaquel II
At the start of the 40-day penitential season, Cardinal Tagle asks Catholics to become poor for others

PENITENTIAL SEASON. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle marks foreheads with ashes to start the 40-day period of Lent. Photo by Noli Yamsuan/RCAM AOC

MANILA, Philippines – Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle on Ash Wednesday, March 5, denounced the hypocrisy of people who pray, fast, and give alms “to put themselves up” and not to “return to God.”

Tagle said Catholics, instead, should perform these practices by “becoming poor” for others, including survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and other recent disasters.

“Engaging in religious activities not in order to return to God but to be full of self – that is not holiness. That’s definitely not a way to return to God. That’s hypocrisy,” the cardinal said in a homily.

Catholics, he said, should purify the 3 “traditional disciplines” of the 40-day penitential season of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

To explain this, Tagle took his cue from Pope Francis by quoting his Lenten message.

In this message, Francis jumped off from a passage from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “He became poor so that by his poverty, you might become rich.”

“In imitation of our Master,” the Pope said, “we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.”

‘Time for self-denial’

“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty,” the pontiff added.

Tagle said he sees this self-denial in parents who sacrifice for children, or husbands and wives who help each other in times of great need.

“You’re willing to be poor so that the other person could be enriched by your love. That’s what true prayer, true almsgiving, and true fasting is all about. They’re all ways of becoming poor so that others may become rich with God’s love,” Tagle said.

He then urged Catholics to donate to the poor, especially disaster survivors. (READ: Tagle: Feed Yolanda survivors through fasting)

'BE POOR.' Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle tells Catholics to help 'enrich' their neighbor. Photo by Noli Yamsuan/RCAM AOC

After his homily, Tagle led the annual Catholic ritual of marking foreheads with ashes to begin Lent.

When putting ashes on the faithful’s foreheads, ministers pronounce one of two biblical verses:

  • “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” which comes from the Gospel according to Mark; and
  • “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return,” which comes from the book of Genesis

In his television program The Word Exposed, Tagle reminded Catholics in 2012 to have ashes put on their foreheads “not only for the traditional compliance but out of sincere contrition for our sins and out of our desire to humbly submit to God.”

To ‘make room for God’

During Lent, the Catholic Church also prescribes fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. (READ: Costly Lenten dishes and defeated purposes)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes these as acts of self-denial and dependence on God, helping people “acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.” 

Tagle cautioned Catholics: Fasting should go beyond simply starving oneself or reducing one’s weight. He said fasting should have “an element of self-discipline.” (READ: Tagle: It’s fasting, not diet)

The former provincial superior of the Philippine Jesuits, Fr Jose Magadia, SJ, explained this idea of cutting down on certain luxuries.

“The idea is to cut down – not just for cutting down’s sake; and not just for self-discipline; and not just for proving to ourselves that we can do without things; and not just because the Church requires it,” Magadia wrote in a reflection in 2012.

“I think that cutting down is done in order to make a little more room in our hearts for one another, and also maybe a little more room for God,” he said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.