Tomorrow in this country is the celebration of All Hallows Eve, or the day before All Saints Day. Halloween is a dress-up day in which children run from house to house in their costumes begging treats and if treats are not forthcoming then some devilish tricks are promised by the beggars.
Long are the preparations on the parts of the pretenders and on the parts of those preparing to pretend they are frightened into surrendering candy and such. We who are preparing to assist at the liturgy and celebrate the Eucharist are spending prayer-time so as to un-pretend, or take off our costumes. Like the beggars we are, we prepare to receive the “Holy Treat” of an un-tricky God. We pray to bring our real selves to the altar of His most real sacrifice. We pray to exalt Him and be lifted up ourselves by His “treatful” and generous love.
We can prepare to live the liturgy by tending the person of Jesus, that is, taking his personality and teachings into our own way of living our days. We too can hurry from house to house, not to scare and demand, but offer peace and comfort to those whose fears might be keeping them holed up inside.
A little Latin lesson will help for this Reflection; Teneo means “I hold”. Many English words con“tain” or “hold” the meaning of “holding” within them. Add such prefixes as “ex” meaning “out” and you get the word “extend”. So too when one adds “in” one gets the word meaning to “hold in”. Add “at” and you find “attend” meaning to “hold close”. Enough? One more then, more appropriate for this Reflection and the readings.
“Pre” comes from the Latin word pro meaning “in front”. When you add that to our root, you get “pre-tend” or that which you hold in front of you so that you are not seen, but only the image. Halloween is a pretenderous celebration. Children love this gathering-time of sweets and are rewarded with much to sort and save. My small nephew once separated the candies he had begged for during his Halloween tour. He piled up the candy he really liked and the rest he told his mother, he would wish to send to his Jesuit uncle as a nice gift.
The readings for this weekend are most apt for our times. Malachi has strong words for the religious leaders for his time. We hear words of anger and denouncing. What we do not hear is how the priests have been pretending. They were taking blind animals, blemished animals, lame animals to be sacrificed at the altar of the Lord. They were bringing pretend offerings while “re-taining” or “holding back” what was real and holy to the Lord.
Our First Reading begins with a proclamation of the kingship of God. We hear a threat to the priests of the liturgical rites. They all are children of the “one God” Who has created them all. If they continue the misuse of their god-given powers, then terrible things will happen to them By their misuse of their gifts, others have fallen by the way. They have tended to themselves and not extended the keeping of the Law justly to all of God’s people.
Jesus speaks to his disciples and to the Jewish crowd in today’s Gospel. Jesus is inviting them to adhere to the demands of the Law of Moses, but as for those who interpret the Law for their own benefit, do not follow what they do. Those “pretenders” hold in front of themselves religious symbols. Phylacteries are containers affixed to arms and or foreheads possessing important verses of the Law. These will impress the people who see these and judge that those who wear them are as holy as the verses themselves. Jesus is reminding His listeners that it is not what one wears outside that makes a person a follower of God’s ways. It is not the name “teacher” or “father” or “master” which make a person a reflection of God’s holiness.
Jesus has said it elsewhere, that becoming a servant, a child, a humble person, are ways of revealing true godliness. Jesus lives what He is preaching and invites His followers to be un-pre-tentious.
We are inside-out people as human beings. We are in contradiction when we go outside-out. The question is not about “do I wear a cross”, but rather “Do I bear the cross?” It is not whether or not I go to mass or celebrate the liturgy, but do I get sent out to live what I have received. As a Catholic priest and celebrant of the Eucharist, I cover up my self with religious garbs of various colors, but what I literally do is “pre-tend” Christ. I “hold in front of me” Christ as I offer Jesus first to the Father and then to the community. I “Christend”, ex-tending Him to “sus-tain” His Body, the Church. I desire deeply not to hide behind Him or use Him as a substitute for my being present.
The day after Halloween is All Saints Day. It is the day we celebrate all those who put aside their natural pretenses and lived the Christ within them, inside-out. Costumes are for fun; being uncovered from our falseness is a joy. Holiness is letting the Holy One out who also re-tains a holy place inside us. We give what we have received. We do not pretend that we haven’t received; we do not pretend we are nothing but a costume. We humble ourselves by being ourselves. God exalts us by God’s love for us just as we are.
Holiness just might be the result of the long process of taking off anything that hides God’s goodness within us.
“Lord, you will show me the path for life and fill me with joy in your presence.” Ps. 16, 11
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