By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, October 31, 2016

No Need for Masks

Tonight is Halloween. This time often reminds me of a story told by a friend and contemporary of my parents. As this particular event one year was drawing near, she was speaking with her four-year old grandson. The little boy asked his grandmother if she would be dressing up for Halloween. Wanting to have a little fun, she replied that she was planning to dress up as an old lady. Shocked, the boy protested, saying, “But you're thupothed to be thomething different!

That little boy was giving voice to a message with which we are constantly bombarded: “You're supposed to be something different.” Time and again we are told that life is to be measured in terms of beauty, prowess, accomplishment, material wealth, power, and so on. This lie comes at us so often and in such a variety of ways that we can actually begin to believe it. When we thus surrender to the lie, we look within and begin to say to ourselves that we are supposed to be something different than we are. That’s when we begin to “dress up”, to put on “masks”, by hiding away our true selves under layers of pretence. Not good, because, in fact, what we are saying to ourselves is, “I wish I were somebody other than who I am.” That is to do terrible violence to the self and can cause untold harm. Furthermore, not only do we alienate ourselves from ourselves, but also, in so doing, separate ourselves from others. It is no wonder we see so much fracture and division in our society.

What God says to us is something entirely different than what we tell ourselves. Consider what we heard in the first reading Sunday from the Book of Wisdom: “Lord, you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.” We are God’s creation. He loves us as he has made us, not as we wish we were. I’m reminded here of a passage from Isaiah that our beloved late Sr. Annata Brockman had chosen to be proclaimed at her funeral mass. In it, God says to us through the prophet: “[You] are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you..." (43: 4) No need for masks.

This unconditional love of God reaches us in the gaze of Jesus Christ. As we were reminded in the Gospel account of his encounter with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), the Lord looked at him seated on a tree branch. This loving gaze passed through the label of “sinner” and reached the truth of Zacchaeus’s identity as a beloved child of God. Jesus invited himself into Zacchaeus’s life, which was totally transformed in consequence. Zacchaeus knew he had done wrong, but that now a new life was made possible. While everyone else still placed upon him the mask of “sinner”, Zacchaeus cast it off through repentance. His life was totally changed when the Lord led him to see himself as God sees him. He knew that he no longer had to be “something different”, as he received from Jesus the mercy that liberates and restores to life.

The day after Halloween, the day the masks come off, is the Solemnity of All Saints. This juxtaposition of events reminds us that we grow in holiness as we open our lives to the gaze of Jesus Christ, abandon our surrender to falsehood, and live in accord with our identity and dignity as beloved children of God.