31st Sunday: Wearing Faces
Tomorrow, your doorbell will ring and little children will stand outside saying "Trick or Treat". Children love Halloween because they like to pretend. God has given them huge imaginations and with a little cloth here and a mask there they can be anyone their mind tells them they are. The TV and the computer game screen has taken most of the chances to imagine out of a child's life, but Halloween is one of the few opportunities still there for their imaginations to soar. The only problem I have with Halloween is when it becomes a glorification of evil. Perhaps there are instances when that is exactly how people react on Halloween. But these are minimum. For most of us, Halloween is just an opportunity for the children to dress up, make believe, and have fun.
Putting on a mask and pretending is perfectly acceptable for a child, particularly on Halloween. But, putting on a mask and pretending is not acceptable for a follower of Jesus Christ. God is not satisfied with people imagining that they are great followers of Christ. We are not called to appear to be a holy people. We are called to be a holy people.
In the gospel Jesus gives the example of the Pharisees. He says they wear all the holy costumes, headbands and tassels in front of their eyes containing inscriptions from scripture. The reason why they did that is because in scripture God says, “Keep my words always before your eyes.” So, when the pharisees moved their heads, they would see the words of scripture, thereby keeping God’s words before their eyes. According to Jesus, these Pharisees went trick or treating to all the important banquets so that everyone else could see them. That’s all they really wanted. They were just putting on a show. They knew how to hold their arms up in prayer. They said the proper pious platitudes. They pretended to be holy, but they were not holy.
God looks at us and sees many of us trick or treating. He might see a religious leader wearing a nice pious costume and saying all the proper things, but carrying on immoral and perhaps even illegal actions that could not emanate from the soul of a holy person. He might look at a mother or a father, who quickly proclaim their Christianity, but in reality act as though this is just a costume covering over someone who is not open to God in his or her life. The Lord can look at a homebound person who pretends to be a kindly elderly grandmother or grandfather, but who is really carrying years of hate within him or her.
On the weekend after the children said, "Boo", we are faced with some of the most frightening words in scripture. We are told to fight against our own hypocrisy. How can we do this? For one thing, we cannot demand more from others than we demand from ourselves. As a priest, I cannot demand that others fulfill their worship obligations if I do not fulfill mine. I cannot demand that others tithe, if I do not tithe. I cannot demand that others fight against immorality if I partake in immorality. You cannot not demand that others be kind and caring, if you are mean to that daughter-in-law or son-in-law you've never liked. If you are young, you cannot claim to be a Christian if you are nasty to other people. If you are still in school, you cannot claim to be a Christian if you join those kids who hurt other kids in your class. We cannot demand that others be good Catholics if you destroy people's reputations on the phone.
Secondly, we can avoid being hypocrite if we take responsibility for our own lives rather than entrust it to others. We can not be satisfied with saying we are a follower of this or that person, be it a priest or a figure on TV, or whomever and let that person determine our lives. We have the ability to set the course of our own lives. We must take responsibility for our faith lives. Call no man "father" or "rabbi" or "teacher" means call no man guru, if we have a guru, then we don't take responsibility for what we do. We call our priests father in that they are to be the head of our faith family in our parishes, but we do not give our priests the position of guru, entrusting them with the responsibility for our lives. We entrust our lives to God and God only. Only Christ can be our guide.
And that brings us right back to where we started. If we, you and I, can find the courage to let Jesus be our guide, if every aspect of our lives reflects the presence of Jesus in the world, then we would not be wearing masks, but would really and truly be followers of Christ.
Halloween is for children. Following Jesus is the serious work of people who are willing to expose their faces and their lives to the world. May the grace of Christ on the Cross, which we receive in the Eucharist, give us the ability to live our Christianity.