This past Friday, I had the opportunity to spend a little time out at our parish Trunk-or-Treat. Now, of course, I bailed on them after a while to go inside in the heat and watch Game 7, but that’s not the point. I just remember seeing the excitement of some kids at wearing masks. You’ve got scary masks, funny masks, and rather disgusting masks. It didn’t matter if the mask was hot, sweaty, smelly, or uncomfortable, those kids loved wearing masks! And they covered just about every topic out there from presidents to ghosts to serial killers. Now, maybe some of you parents can prove me wrong, but I doubt your 8 year old is a serial killer. But they wear that mask for others – to entertain them, and ultimately, to get whatever sweets and attention they can out of them.
Well, your child is a hypocrite! I mean that purely in the Greek sense, of course. In ancient Greek theatre, a hypocrite was an actor. They would wear masks with huge exaggerated expressions on them, in order to hide who they were and to draw emotions out of the audience. That’s actually where we get this term “hypocrite”. It’s somebody who acts like they’re wearing a mask. They’re outward appearance doesn’t match what’s underneath the mask.
In the Gospel today, Jesus is correcting the priests and Pharisee of the Jewish people for being hypocrites. He invites the crowd certainly to adhere to the teachings and practices of Jewish law and worship, but he’s criticizing those who interpret the law for their own benefit. He is talking about them building up their outward appearance for themselves. Some of them were carrying around these large and very noticeable phylacteries, containers that they would tie to their forehead, which contained passages from the law. They were meant to be a symbol of keeping the law in the forefront of the person’s mind, but in some cases, these Pharisees had used them to gain more prestige. The larger the phylactery, the more impressive you were, and the holier people expected you were as well. But Jesus is pointing out to them that it isn’t what is worn on the outside that makes a person a follower in God’s ways. Different titles like “teacher”, “father”, “mother”, or “master” aren’t what make a person holy. Rather, it is what is coming from the interior disposition.
Jesus is certainly not saying, “Just do whatever you want, as long as you’re a good person. It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside.” Rather, he’s pointing out that holiness comes from our hearts, and then it’s manifested to everyone else by the things we say or do. As human beings, we’re inside-out people. In fact, we’re in contradiction with ourselves if we go outside out. Let me tell you what I mean by that. The question for us isn’t about whether I wear a cross, but rather whether I bear the cross. It isn’t about whether others see us going to Mass, but about leaving to live what we’ve received. As a priest, I wear all sorts of fancy vestments of different colors and beautiful fabric. I use a fancy golden chalice. I practically read my homily to you every Sunday. But these things aren’t so I look good (although I certainly do). These nice things are here and are important because they reflect what’s going on here (pointing to the altar). Something glorious and beautiful and incredible and miraculous is going on! And so my job, just like any priest, isn’t to show you Fr. Awesome so that I can be everyone’s favorite person. It’s to show Christ, and the extraordinary love that he has for each one of us, most especially displayed to us through the Mass. And each of us are called to the same. We’re called to remove those masks that we use to hide who we are and fool others, and to show them only one thing: Christ.
The day after Halloween is of course All Saints Day. And this is important for us because we celebrate all of those who put aside their natural pretenses, and lived to show Christ within themselves, inside-out. Running around with masks and costumes is fun, but removing our falseness and showing others Christ is a joy. We don’t pretend what we’ve received, or pretend that we’re only a costume of a Christian. No, you and I are called to give what we’ve received, by loving God with our whole hearts, and manifesting that love to others.
Thanks to Fr. Larry Gillick, SJ for the inspiration!