All Saints’ Day Eve (All Hallows Eve): Would Jesus Trick-or-Treat?

Today’s readings

Since we’re gathered here on Halloween, All Hallows Eve, I thought I might get your attention by doing a little homily I like to call “Would Jesus Go Trick-or-Treating?” It’s an important topic, because I think a lot of parents wrestle with the message of Halloween and whether or not they should support their children joining in the festivity.

And I think it’s an important thing to wrestle with. On one hand, we don’t want to make a joke out of evil, because evil is real and it’s no joke. But on the other hand, we don’t want to call attention to evil by making a big thing out of it. Exorcists tell us that those are the two common mistakes that we can make about: First, we might say think there is no such thing as the devil. Satan would be happy for us to do that, because then we’re not on guard against him. He is real, he’s out there, and we do have to be on guard. Second, we might look for evil everywhere, and that just shuts us down and keeps us from living the Gospel. Neither of these is a good thing.

So let’s talk about Halloween. Its origins are a bit murky, and lots of people think that what happened is that we sort of baptized a pagan festival. And there is a traditional pagan festival on October 31st, but apparently there is a traditional pagan festival on the last day of every month, so really that’s nothing special. More likely, Halloween was a celebration of the Eve of All Saints – hence the name. All Saints Day originated in the year 609, when it was celebrated in May. But in the ninth century, it was moved to the first of November, which is when the Germanic church celebrated it, and it’s been celebrated then ever since.

The origins of trick-or-treating may have been in Ireland where an ancient Gaelic festival celebrated the harvest and marked the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die. Because of the fear of death that came with winter, these celebrations seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from life-taking spirits.

So the origins and intent of Halloween are relatively benign, and mostly intended to honor the saints. But in our country, over time, a more sinister tone was added to the celebration. Think of some of the more horrific costumes, extremely elaborate and grotesque “haunted houses,” and parties where more evil customs were brought to the celebration. Add that to some of the more elaborate horror movies that get released this time of year, and you can see how it would be easy to brand Halloween as an evil holiday.

Fundamentalist Christians especially see the evil, and thus throw out the entire holiday. But we are not fundamentalist Christians. So we remember that God is good, and that he is in control, and we do not give the demonic or the evil any power that they don’t already have. Indeed, a lot of people think that there is more demonic activity at this time of year than normal, but exorcists tell us that is not true. It’s just that people tend to open more doors by their worrying and by doing some things they shouldn’t to celebrate the holiday.

So now let’s remember what this holiday is really about. Today we celebrate the feast of all the Saints – those who have been officially canonized over the ages, and those that perhaps we don’t know of, but who God certainly knows. This is the Church Triumphant, those who have conquered evil and have mastered holiness. They have accomplished what they were created for, to take up their rightful place in the Kingdom of Heaven, that place that God has prepared for each one of us. Today we celebrate their triumph, and hope for our own triumph, for we too wish to live forever with our God. We celebrate the example the saints have given us and we celebrate their intercession, which helps to guide our lives and lead us on the path of life eternal. So it is right to celebrate this as we celebrate other holidays, with great festivity.

I think it’s important that we celebrate Halloween and All Saints Day as one, which is the intent. If we do that, we keep our minds on what is positive and turn away from all that bids us evil. So yes, I think it’s okay to trick-or-treat, to celebrate with parties, and to dress up. But I’d skip the more evil costumes, and any party games that summon evil, like Ouija boards. Those are things that open the door to evil, and we always want to avoid that.

Avoiding evil was the glory of the saints. That was part of the path to holiness for them. As we celebrate all the saints today, we might think of some who famously battled evil and won. Saint Michael the Archangel, my middle-name patron, fights the battle of evil that we don’t see, every single moment. He is a wonderful patron, and we should memorize the prayer to him and pray it often. Saint Patrick, my principal patron, famously converted the pagan king of Ireland to Catholicism and exorcised the forces of evil in that country. His famous Breastplate prayer is considered a deliverance prayer and a help to those who feel oppressed by evil. Of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, is a powerful protector of all of us, her children. And let’s not forget our Guardian Angels, who do battle for us on a daily basis. That’s just some of the saints who battle for our good.

And in the spirit of their glorious battle, we should dedicate ourselves to joining them one day. We are all supposed to be saints, and as tall an order as that may sound, it needs to be our number one priority. Because there is no one in heaven who is not a saint. So then, we need to take all the help God and His Church gives us: we must dedicate ourselves to the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist, which together are more powerful than a solemn exorcism. We must put prayer at the beginning, in the middle and the end of our to-do lists, dedicating ourselves to the Blessed Sacrament, to the reading of scripture, and devotions, particularly the rosary. We have to make every effort to live the Gospel, and to give witness to the power of God’s love in our lives and in our world. Because if we honor and witness to Christ in this life, he will surely be our advocate in the life to come.

So yes, I think Jesus might trick-or-treat. But we come to him today for the best of all treats, the saving grace that he offers us that we might join the saints in heaven one day. We come to Jesus rejoicing and full of gladness, because we know that those who belong to him will have great reward in heaven.

Monday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The leader of the synagogue had it all wrong, and he of all people should have known what was right. God always intended the Sabbath day to be a day of rest, yes, but also of healing, also of mercy. There is no way that we can rest if we are in need of those things. The woman in the story was plagued by a demon that kept her bent over for eighteen years. Some translations of this passage say that she was “bent double.” So she wasn’t just slouched over or bent part way, but more like this, bent in half, for eighteen years! For eighteen years she never had a moment’s rest from this demon. Not only that, because she was bent double, people never even really saw her – really looked her in the eye.

We find great healing when we rest, and so the healing of a person who had been plagued for so long by a demon that she was bent over double from the weight of it, that healing had every right to take place on the Lord’s Day, the Sabbath Day of rest. Who are we to decide when someone should be healed? That grace comes from God, and his mercy comes on his timetable, not ours. The Sabbath has come and gone for us this week, but as we head into the workweek this day, it would be wonderful if we could take a moment to plan for the coming Sabbath day of rest. We too are offered healing and mercy if only we would ask for it, if only we would rest in the Lord.

(Image by Doris Klein)

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today I think our Scriptures call us to get love right.  Love is an important thing for Christians because we know that God is love, and that we are called to love.  But what we sometimes define love to be, and what we often settle for is so much less than what it’s supposed to be.

Let’s set this up quickly.  In our Gospel today, the Pharisees are at it again.  They saw that Jesus silenced the Sadducees, a rival party, and so they wanted to put him to the test yet again.  So they ask him a classic trick question: “Which commandment of the Law is the greatest?”  It’s a question that scholars of the law back then argued about all the time: there were 613 commandments in the Jewish law, so which of them was most important?  You can just imagine the arguments about it.  So they pose the question to Jesus, not so much to see where he stands on the subject, but rather so they could have something to hold against him.  That’s the whole point here.

But Jesus isn’t having any of it.  He boils all of the law and the prophets down to just two basic commandments: love the Lord your God with everything that you are, and then also love your neighbor as yourself.  And when you think about it, this is so common-sense.  If we love God and neighbor, there won’t be any room for sin or crime or war or anything else bad.  It’s so simple.  And yet so hard to do.

But it shouldn’t be that way: it shouldn’t have been hard for the Pharisees and it shouldn’t be hard for us either.  The Pharisees made up the strongest part of the religious establishment of the time.  They were so concerned about getting the law right, that they often missed the whole point of the law in the first place.  The law came from none other than God himself, and he gave it for the good of the people, but the Pharisees used it to keep people under their thumb, which was what they were trying to do to Jesus here.

And God is all about justice.  So if that’s how he wanted it, the law would indeed be very rigid.  But as we see from the small sample of the law we have in our first reading, God wanted justice to be tempered with mercy.  Sure, go ahead and take your neighbor’s cloak as collateral on a loan.  But you better give it back to him before sundown, because that’s all he has to keep him warm in the night.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to those of us who have learned that God is love.  God is love itself, and God cannot not love.  That’s what God does and who God is: he loves us into existence, loves us in repentance, loves us with mercy, and loves us to eternity.  God is love in the purest of all senses: that love which wills the good of the other as other.

So when Jesus boils the whole Judaic law down to two commandments, it’s not like he’s made it easy.  As I said; it is simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy.  It means giving the person who just cut you off in traffic a break, because you don’t know what’s really going on in their life.  It means showing kindness to your family after a long day, even when they’re testing your patience.  It means finding ways to be charitable and help those less fortunate.  And, I’ll just say it, it means cutting yourself some slack when you mess up, even when you’ve just committed the sin you’ve been trying to stamp out of your life forever.  You have to love yourself if you are going to do what Jesus said: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

So in the quiet time of our worship today, perhaps after receiving Holy Communion, maybe our prayer could be “Help me, God, to love as you love.”  That’s a really appropriate prayer after Communion because in Holy Communion, we have just received Love itself, we have received our Jesus who laid down his life so that we would not be dead in our sins.  If anyone can teach us how to love, it’s Jesus.

The whole law and the prophets depends on love.  The way we live our lives needs to show that we depend on love too.

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 1; has always been one of my very favorite psalms. One interpretation of this Psalm is to look at it as a blueprint for blessedness. In Biblical terms, of course, blessedness equals happiness. So the person who doesn’t follow the counsel of the wicked or walk with sinners but instead meditates on the law of the LORD is happy, or blessed. This person is productive and vibrant, and all of his activities are prosperous. This person is contrasted to the wicked person who is anything but enduring. These are unhappy people who are driven away by the first storm that comes along.

On the other hand, the Church has also looked at the blessed one in this psalm as referring to Christ himself. None of us is able to steer clear of evil all the time, nor meditate on God’s law day and night. But Jesus is the One who is like us in all things but sin and who is the fulfilled promise of God’s law. Jesus definitely is the tree planted near running water, which takes root strongly and shades us from the burning heat of evil under his never-fading leaves. Jesus is the one who can prosper any work that we do, if we just ask him to do so. If we want to know the person who really embodies the spirit of Psalm 1; then all we have to do is look to our Savior.

But that doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to become holy enough to take up the spirit of this Psalm within ourselves. We certainly don’t want to be the chaff which is driven away by the wind. Joining ourselves to our Savior, meditating on him day and night, as best we can, we can be refreshed by those running waters and become the sturdy trees that shelter the Church in good times and in bad. Blessed indeed are all of us who hope in the Lord.

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word speaks to us about being ready.  And now’s as good a time for that as any, especially since we are getting so close to the end of the liturgical year.  The liturgical year ends on the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe, which this year is celebrated on November 26th.  What we are going to start noticing in the readings from now until then is a decided interest in how all of time will be wrapping up.  Theologians call that “eschatology,” which is the theology about the end times.

Now, to be clear, we don’t know when the end of time will actually happen.  God in his providence keeps the big picture on that to himself, which I think is good, or we would be constantly worried about it.  But today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that we can’t be complacent either.  We have to have our spiritual houses in order lest the master return and find us slacking off and give his blessings to more diligent servants.

It’s easy to slack off on our spiritual service when things are going well.  The urgency to our prayer wanes and we’re easily distracted.  But even when things aren’t going so well, we can be bogged down in the mire of whatever we’re dealing with and forget to attend to the faith that sees us through.  So the issue is being prepared: girding our loins and lighting our lamps, so that when the Master returns, we’re ready to go.

For us this might mean a return trip to the Sacrament of Penance if it’s been a while, or perhaps signing up for the Bible Study if we have been meaning to do that, or even just taking the Bible down off the shelf and reading a few verses each night before bed.  Whatever we haven’t been doing, whether it’s Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or a renewed dedication to the Holy Rosary, it’s time we got on it.  It might even mean taking time out of our busy schedules to be of service to those in need.

God wants to take us with him and he’s very patient, but we have to do our part.  We have to be diligent and ready.  We have to be eager to say with the Psalmist, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

The Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Stewardship Sunday

Today’s readings

This is indeed our home.  It can be easy to come to think of this place as a school, or an auditorium, or even as a worship space and fills a function and other than that, doesn’t mean anything different.  But as I said in the video this is our home: this is where we come to find peace when we’re struggling; this is where we go to make a difference as we did (earlier today/yesterday) and witness to our faith; this is where we gather to celebrate our faith in God and receive the grace he pours out on us through the sacraments of the church.  This isn’t just any old building, it’s a community, it’s a family, and it is us.

And because this is our home, we have to attend to it.  We have to fix what’s broken, we have to strengthen what’s weak, we have to invest in a community so it will be here for our children and grandchildren.  And so this is one of the very few times that I will come to you and give the “money” talk.  Because I get it: I know that everyone has demands on their finances, sometimes very significant ones.  But if this is our home, then we are called to make an investment in its present and future, just as previous generations have done for us.

Our Gospel reading today calls us to give to God what belongs to God.  This then becomes a reflection on the first commandment of the Decalogue: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.” This is echoed by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.”

Giving to God what belongs to God is foundational. Failure to do that leads to all other kinds of sin. Today, we have in our Scriptures an examination of conscience. Have we been zealous to give to God what belongs to God? Have we taken time for prayer? Have we been of service to our brothers and sisters in need? Have we made teaching the faith to our children our primary priority? Have we been vigilant to prevent anything from getting in the way of celebrating Mass as a family? If we have fallen short in any of those ways, this is the time to reverse the course and get it right. Caesar gets what’s his one way or the other. We have to be the ones who are on fire to give to God what belongs to God.

We’ve accomplished a lot as a parish in the last year.  I hope you saw that wonderful list in the bulletin a few weeks ago when we presented the parish financial report.  It was a full and engaging year, and we should take pride that we as a parish could do so much together.  I am grateful for the way the parish came together to provide a beautiful sign out on Route 59, that we found a way to repair many of the sidewalks and other concrete around the facility, and to revamp our parish gym.  What a blessing that we could get those things done!  But, just like any home, there’s a lot to be done.  We need to repair the parking lot, the floor in Cana Hall, and the windows in the Commons, to name but a few.  We need to take care of those things and provide space in our budget for when stuff happens, like the air conditioning going out in the school office, or a leaking pipe in the narthex.

One of the very first things I did when I found out I was coming here was to sign up for online giving.  I wanted to make sure that I was giving expression to my gratitude for all that God does in my life.  And so it is in that spirit that I ask that each of you discern how you can help us to meet our increased budget needs through your offertory support.  While we all have different resources to draw from and commitments to fulfill, we can each give something in support of our parish family.  We are doing our best to use modern conveniences to assist parishioners in their giving.  We have electronic giving options to help meet the demands presented by the fast pace of our lives.

In the past week or so, you probably received a letter from me asking for your support.  After you have prayed about your response, I would ask that you fill out the enclosed letter of support and send it back to us.  You can mail it to the parish office, to my attention, or you can drop it in the collection basket this week or next.  Please know how very much I appreciate the support you give to our parish.  It helps me accomplish the mission we have as a parish to worship, teach the faith to people of all ages and to reach out to others in acts of service and charity.  Please know of my prayers for you every single day, and how much I love being your pastor.  May God bless us all as we continue to Make Christ Known together!

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time: Make a Difference Day

Today’s readings

Our Gospel today warns us of coming persecutions.  At some point, we will all be dragged before synagogues and rulers and authorities of some sort, and we will have to give an account of what we believe.  Now for us, it’s not going to be so literal, obviously.  But we may have to give an account of why we believe in Christ or why we follow a religion that inconveniently speaks out against threats to life and family.  We may have to tell others why it is that we would give up such a beautiful Saturday to clean church pews, or trim a neighbor’s hedges, or play bingo at a nursing home.

Today, on our Make a Difference Day, we take our give strong witness to our faith in our work. As we come together to pack meals at Feed My Starving Children, make blankets for Linden Oaks, or clean up our parish grounds, our presence and concern may be the way God is using to get someone’s attention and see his presence in her or his life. As we engage in whatever we have signed up to do today, God may give us gifts that answer prayers we didn’t even know we had in our hearts, and definitely answer the prayers of others. Our work gives witness to who Christ is in our lives; Christ who loves us first and loves us best.  Sharing that love in the work we do today is a powerful way to help others know the presence of Christ in their lives.

Living our faith is always going to cost us something and that something is likely to be status or popularity, or at least the wondering glance from people who aren’t ready to accept the faith.  But the volumes that we speak by living our faith anyway might just lay the groundwork for conversion and become a conduit of grace.  We are told that we don’t have to hammer out all the words we want to say; that the Holy Spirit will give us eloquence that we can only dream of.  And it’s true, if we trust God, if we live our faith when it’s popular or unpopular, we will have the Spirit and the words.  God only knows what can be accomplished in those grace-filled moments!  I pray that you see Christ everywhere as you witness today.