31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 30, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Monday/Tomorrow is, of course, Halloween.
I’m afraid it’s been years since I’ve enjoyed this “holiday”
–mainly because it’s a day that the evil one and his followers
have turned into an un-holy-day
—a day the worshippers of the devil treat
as their most special day of the year.
But I also know that most people don’t realize this,
and most people—especially children—
simply see it as a day to dress up in costumes
and pretend they’re somebody they’re not.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially for children.
I’m not a big fan of children pretending to be evil things
—monsters, vampires, killers, devils—
but pretending itself isn’t bad.
So you can say I sort of tolerate Halloween with a smile.
It’s interesting though, while little kids get to dress up as Spiderman,
or a fairy-princess,
Halloween also dresses itself up, pretending to be something it’s not.
Because Halloween is actually “All Hallow’s Eve”—or All Saints Eve—
the vigil of All Saints Day,
which is one of the Holy Days of the Catholic Church.
Actually, I think this is really at the heart of my dislike
of the secular celebration of Halloween—
this vigil of a Catholic holy day–All Saints Eve—
has been dressed up as a celebration of the secular and even of evil.
The celebration of All Saints Day goes back to at least to the late 3rd century.
As we all know the first 3 centuries of the Church
were a time of on-again-off-again persecution
and thousands of Christians were killed–martyred–for their faith.
It was the custom of the Church to celebrate as liturgical feasts the anniversary
of the death of some of the better known or more heroic martyrs.
But by the end of the 3rd century,
the number of heroic martyrs had become so great
that they couldn’t find enough days to set aside for each,
and so they began to celebrate one day of the year as the
“feast of all martyrs.”
which soon spread throughout the Church as the “Feast of All Saints.”
But all this is directly opposite of what Halloween has become.
And not only in the context of the celebration of evil that it’s become for many,
but even in its celebration as a day of pretending.
Because the Martyrs were put to death because they refused to pretend:
they refused to be someone, or even act like someone, they were not.
In the days of the Roman persecutions,
the judges would offer Christians complete pardons
if only they would burn a little incense in front of a statue of a pagan god.
All they had to do was pretend to believe in that god, and they’d be spared.
But because they refused to pretend,
because they would not deny who they were and who they really worshiped,
they were put to death.
Because they wouldn’t pretend we can say of them,
borrowing the words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading:
“the name of our Lord Jesus [was] glorified in [them],and [they] in him…”
These are the ones who will be “assembled with him”
at “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
All Saint’s—or All Hallows—is a day honoring not pretending,
but standing up for who you are as Christians.
And so should All Hallow’s Eve.
Still, from time to time, we all pretend to be someone we’re not.
Sometimes this is in relatively harmless ways.
Sometimes, for example,
we try to give the impression that we’re more important than we are,
maybe to impress parents, or girlfriends, or our children or our friends.
Or sometimes we pretend as part of a harmless joke,
or to surprise someone with a gift.
And sometimes we pretend to be something we’re not
because we want to be better than we are
—so pretending can be motivated by good intentions.
But sometimes pretending crosses a line of willful deception and becomes sinful
—even gravely sinful.
Sometimes we use pretending to hide our sins to deceive others,
and sometimes we pretend in order to deceive ourselves.
Take for example, Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel.
Zacchaeus is a tax collector for the Romans,
and so a collaborator and a cheat against his brother Jews:
he is a notorious public sinner.
And it seems he uses his ill-gotten wealth and high government position
–he was the “chief tax collector” —
to pretend he was a great man, maybe even a good Jew.
Until he meets Jesus.
But after that, when they accuse him of his sins, he stops pretending,
and does public penance:
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor.”
And he doesn’t even pretend that his wealth isn’t ill-gotten, saying:
“if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus responds: “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Sometimes we pretend to be good and devout Christians,
and yet we don’t love the Lord with all our hearts, soul and strength;
we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves,
and we don’t keep the commandments.
We pretend to be good parents, but we don’t spend time with our kids,
or we don’t take time to discipline them
or teach them right from wrong, or about Jesus, as we should.
Or maybe you pretend to be a good spouse,
but you let your eye or your mind rove to other men or women,
or you yell at or nag your spouse.
Or maybe you pretend to be a good worker, but you cheat on your overtime.
Or maybe you pretend to be a good student,
but you talk when your teacher leaves the room, or you cheat on tests,
or you bully your classmates.
This kind of sinful pretending, a form of lying, happens every day in our lives,
in small and large ways.
Unfortunately it also extends throughout our society
—and this pretending hurts not one or two people, but the whole society.
So, for example, scientists and doctors pretend to be ethicists,
trying to explain in convoluted il-logic
how their experiments using the stem cells of embryonic human beings
are really for the greater good,
even if they involve killing those tiniest babies in the process.
And feminists and pro-abortion advocates pretend to be pro-woman,
but then support abortion, which always causes severe emotional wounds
—and sometimes even physical wounds—to women.
And men pretend to be women, and homosexuals pretend to be married.
And during this election season we see how
some of the biggest pretenders in our society are politicians.
We’ve seen that played out over and over again in the last few months.
But political pretending isn’t limited to politicians:
it extends to “we, the people of the United Sates of America.”
Typically, less than 50% of those eligible to vote actually take the time to do so.
We pretend to be patriots,
but we refuse to even take a few minutes every few years and vote.
Perhaps, though, the most troubling form of pretending,
are people who pretend to be Catholic.
For example, candidates for public office who pretend to be Catholics,
but publicly advocate for abortion and same sex marriage
–not to mention the pretend-Catholics who happily vote for them.
And if you would allow me one more “worse case”
—worse than even pretending politicians and patriots
and pretending Catholics.
These are bishops and priests who pretend to be something they are not.
And in particular the pretending
of too many priests and bishops who mislead their sheep
regarding the truth of Jesus Christ and his Church
by tickling their ears with false
but pleasing and easy doctrines,
or by remaining silent as the wolves’ circle,
and the devils lead their children astray.
They are the worst pretenders of all, because they pretend to be shepherds,
when they are wolves disguised in shepherd’s clothing.
For some, Halloween has become a time for sin and even worshiping the evil one
–we must pray for them, and protect our children from them.
For most though, it is simply a time of pretending
—to enjoy being something you’re not.
It’s natural to want to become someone you’re not
—if that someone is a better you.
And it’s natural to have heroes we want to be like.
But our heroes should lead us to be the best we can be
—the best God created us to be.
Our true Heroes should not be fantasy characters
—but all the saints
who gave their lives to loving God and their neighbor.
The great saints
like the martyrs who refused to pretend to worship false gods
or like the penitent sinners, like Zacchaeus,
who stopped pretending the treasures of the world
could make them great men.
In the coming days, do not pretend to love God—truly love him.
Do not pretend to obey God—truly obey him.
Do not pretend to be Catholic
—truly be Catholics
and think and live and act and pray like Catholics,
and, yes, vote like Catholics.
So that one day we too will be counted among All the Saints
who are “assembled” together
at “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”