The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005, at the Cathedral of Thomas More in Arlington.
Tomorrow is Halloween! This weekend and especially tomorrow, young people and even the not-so-young are going are going around their neighborhoods “trick or treating.” Many of them are wearing masks.
A mask hides the real person. It is one thing to wear a mask during Halloween; it is quite another thing to wear a mask in practicing our faith. Those who wear masks in practicing the faith are, in a real sense, deceptive " “hypocrites” we sometimes say of them.
Both the prophet Malachi in the first reading and Jesus our Blessed Lord in the Gospel account use strong words regarding those who act deceptively, who do not ring true, who appear to be “hypocrites.” Malachi was harsh in his criticism of the Temple priests in his day. They preached God's Word but failed to practice it. They lost their zeal in caring for the purity of worship in the Temple. “You have turned aside from the way and caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.”
Our Blessed Lord was equally harsh in his criticism of the religious leaders of his time " the scribes and the Pharisees. “For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they do not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.”
Before we too easily criticize the Temple priests of Malachi's day and the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' time, we need to examine ourselves. How true are we in practicing our faith? Since both Malachi and Jesus were critical of religious practice in their times, we do well this morning to examine our religious practice: our prayer and our worship.
The prophet Malachi was concerned with sloppy ritual, empty praise and a lack of care for God's dwelling place the Temple. He was concerned with laxity in religious practice.
Are we lax in our prayer and in our worship? Do we pray daily? Morning and evening? Do we pray with an open and generous spirit, allowing the Lord to speak to our hearts? Do we pray with fervor, with perseverance, especially when we feel dry and uncertain?
Do we participate in the sacred liturgy actively and fully? Do we bring a spirit of openness and generosity to both the Liturgy of the Word and to the Liturgy of the Eucharist? The renewal of the sacred liturgy according the Second Vatican Council and to all the documents supporting the renewal up to the present, including the Revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the Instruction on the Eucharist entitled Redemptoris Sacramentum envision not chaos, not a sloppy or carefree celebration of the Mass and other sacraments, but rather the deepened prayer of the community: Christ united with the members of His Mystical Body. The authentic renewal envisions not isolated individuals in prayer, but rather the community of Christ's disciples, praying together through gestures, in a spoken or sung parts, sometimes also in reverential silence, with a variety of roles being exercised responsibly and in accord with the approved liturgical norms. So we must ask ourselves: when we pray at home, do we do so with faith and perseverance? When we worship in the Lord's House, do we do so with reverence and spiritual joy as the Church united with her Lord Jesus Christ in prayer?
Jesus was concerned with the exactness and rigidity of the Pharisees. They did everything correctly " to the very letter, but they were without love and inner spiritual joy. They were too exact.
Are we too exact and rigid in our prayer and worship, failing to integrate prayer with life? Let us consider some possible examples. We participate in the Holy Mass without fail, but when it comes to giving time to our families, we cannot and will not be bothered. We support the Church with our weekly donation, but we spend proportionately much more on luxuries for ourselves. We claim to be faithful Catholics, but we do not stand up for the life issues and defend them by our involvement in civil discourse, by our steadfast witness and by our participation in the election process. I urge you to reread the letter which Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo and I sent to the Catholic Faithful in Virginia several weeks ago, in which we asked our Catholic people “to look beyond partisan politics and particular campaigns, and to reflect prayerfully on the timeless teachings of our faith” and how these teachings enable us to form a correct conscience and, therefore, to vote responsibly in the elections as well as to discuss wisely and to witness courageously.
So, we must ask ourselves: are we acting correctly in terms of our prayer and worship, but failing to integrate our prayer and daily life, our worship and our Catholic witness?
During Halloween, there is a place for masks. In living the faith, in practicing our religion, there is no place for masks. We must practice unmasked, transparent with the truth and life of the Gospel, in full accord with the Church's teachings and discipline.
How we pray and how we live must be of one piece, integrated, ringing true. Then " and then only " will people recognize us as Christ's disciples, who are witnessing to the word of God, which is now at work in us who believe. Then " and then only " will people be attracted and drawn to Christ and to His Body the Church. Amen!