Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 10/31/10: Take Off The Masks


31 Ordinary – October 31, 2010 – Take Off The Masks
Wisdom 11:22-12:2, Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13,14, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2, Luke 19:1-10

Complete biblical texts

Ever wonder why Halloween is always the last day of October? The word is a shortened version of All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, which is always November 1st. The tradition is a mix of Catholic rituals and European folk traditions. In ancient Ireland summer ended on October 31, a day when it was thought the dead would return to earth to haunt the living. The Celts wore costumes, created a ruckus and did damage in their own towns to ward off the demons. By the 19th century any leftover religious or mystical connotations gave way to what is now our neighborhood children’s holiday.

One wonders if evil ghosts are prowling around us today. Attack advertisements during this mid-term election mask the true identities and agendas of political candidates. Raging floods, cholera epidemics, weak economies across the globe are indicators of ghoulish times. Credible research points out the restlessness in mainline religions across like ours. We hear voices of sanity and or fear howling at each other. One wonders how we humans might rise above the frays to find some treats among the tricks. What kinds of costumes do we have to wear to ward off evil in the world today? On the other hand, is it time to take off our masks to see ourselves as we really are?

In today’s gospel we find a short guy climbing a tree to get a good look at Jesus. As the story goes, the wealthy Zacchaeus collected taxes for a living. It was not a popular job (even then) and his neighbors labeled him a sinner. What did Zacchaeus see from that tree? He saw someone who was different, someone who was not affirming the status quo, someone who reached out to the fringes of society, someone who could excite large crowds. What did Jesus see in Zacchaeus? Someone who had questions about life. Zacchaeus was looking for something and the itinerant Jewish missionary gave him hope. Jesus responded and invited himself to his house.

At the door you might imagine Jesus saying, “Trick or treat!” Only it was Zacchaeus who was wearing a costume. Jesus saw through the mask and referring to Zacchaeus’ ancestors said, take off your costume, remember who you are and where you’ve come from, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Now, follow me, “I am making all things new.” [1] Touched by Jesus, Zacchaeus was transformed and Jesus declared right there the whole family would be saved. Zacchaeus offered hospitality to Jesus and received hospitality back from God. [2]

What does God see in us? A world spinning out of control driven by greed and poverty? A country powered by opportunities out of reach for most? A church who for some is still adrift? Family life confounded by media moguls? Is that what God sees in us?

What do we see from high a top a tree? A world cradled in the hands of a faithful God? A country built by human hands and ingenuity? A church that matters in the middle of our lives with all the happiness and messiness? Households shaped by love, respect and trust? Aren’t these the things we see from the tree?

We can’t stay in the tree. It is time to climb down, take off our costumes and masks, open wide the door to Christ, and usher in a vision of something new, “Dancing to the life around us.” [3]

It may be too late to change our costumes for this evening. It is unlikely that we can bring back a religious meaning to Halloween. This All Hallows Eve we can restore an old tradition of picking a favorite saint. There’s a whole bunch of them; many named by our church and countless others living among us and those who are dead. Let’s see in that saint an image of ourselves; one that can scare the evil spirits away. No need to wear a mask. All that matters is that we see ourselves as we are, like God does. If we like that image, what a treat. If not, then we open wide the door to let someone else in who will change our lives and bring salvation to the entire global family.

1 Cooney, Rory. “All Things New” in Gather, 1994, 427

2 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 152

3 Haugen, Marty. “Sing Out, Earth and Skies” in Gather, 1994, 499


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

2 thoughts on “Homily – 10/31/10: Take Off The Masks

  1. Dear Fr Richard
    You hit so many nails on the head with today’s homily. I loved the way you incorporated the message with the holiday. More than that, however, is how your words and delivery moved me and challenged me to look at my costumes and remove my masks. It is a lifetime work, and I have done much to that end already. However, God speaks to me in volumes when I am ready to hear what the next lesson is. Thank you for being one of the prophets in my life at this time. Pray for me as I will for you. You are a gift to our “kin-dom” at St Vincent’s. Sally


  2. We were at 5pm mass this weekend . I just got a chance to read your homily. It was delightful. Thanks for being part of our church family. ELLEN


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