With all of the masks we’ve been wearing over these months for protection, a day celebrating people getting dressed up in masks seems not so out of the ordinary.
It is the day before the eve of All Saints – the “All Hallow’s Eve” as it has been often called. As we all know, it is a great day to pretend to be someone else for a few hours – maybe a saint, a spook, or a monster or witch.
Wearing a mask that looks like another person is fun for a few hours, but today’s readings remind us that, just as we wear physical masks to protect us during a pandemic, being our spiritually “unmasked” and honest self before God and others all the days of the year is vital for our spiritual health!
When we try to be someone other than we are, spiritually speaking, we run the risk of becoming what the Catholic spiritual writer Thomas Merton called a “false self.” This is the spiritual “mask” we hide behind so that we and others don’t have to face our “true self.” Often people want to “mask” their “true self,” because of a sense of their limitations and imperfections. At the same time, though, when we don’t show our “true self,” that is, ourselves as we live in the grace of God, we and others don’t see the goodness that God sees in us either, and we have a hard time receiving the love God has for us. When we run in fear of our failings to a “false self,” we end up putting on a spiritual Halloween mask that we wear all the time – to the point that we even forget who we really are in God’s eyes!
Our readings today are calls to remember our “true selves.”
In the first reading, in his letter to the Church at Philippi, St. Paul is reminding us that, as Christians, we bear the “face” of Christ to others, and so we should always strive to be authentic followers of Christ. Since we can’t see the full scope of our lives in God’s plan in this life, we find ourselves in need of guidance from God about how to live that out each and every day. Paul reminds us that our lives – and even our deaths – can be placed in the service of God’s call. We do not know how we will be called upon to be the face of Christ to others, and sometimes we don’t even know that we are doing it! God works in mysterious and sometimes unseen ways, and Paul reminds his hearers and us to follow his example in always seeking to do God’s will. We can’t do that if we are always wearing our spiritual “false self” mask!
In the Gospel Jesus reminds us of how easy it is for us to project a “false self.” The person who sits in the place of honor is shamed when he took that position that wasn’t for him. However, the person who recognizes their humility – which is nothing more or less than recognizing our “true self” in God’s plan – and who sits in the lower place, is honored. When we let our “true self” shine through, God’s activity in our lives is able to shine through clearly for all to see!
On this Halloween, and as we are about to recall the lives of well-known saints and the souls of recently departed who shined with their “true selves,” let us pray for the ability to take off our spiritual masks, so that we can be the “true self” that God created us to be!
God give you peace!