Last Wednesday night we had a Halloween event at the church which began with Holy Communion. The small congregation gathered up around the altar to receive Communion with many of us wearing our Halloween costumes. There was a Unicorn, Batman, a Princess Mermaid, Wonder Woman, and a number of other imaginative costumes. Daniel was dressed as a Wizard as he gave his homily. Candice was dressed as a Witch and celebrated the Eucharist at the altar. I feel certain that’s never happened before in our 182 year history.
The gospel lesson for the occasion had to do with the Pharisees taking exception to Jesus eating a meal without doing the elaborate ritual of cleansing his hands and the vessels he was eating from. Jesus, in typical fashion, noted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They spent a lot of time cleansing the outsides of their dishes but their own insides – their hearts – were unclean with self-righteousness and hatred. They had gotten lost in the form, totally forgetting substance.
Daniel’s homily dealt with that theme of outsides and insides. While we were all dressed up in our Halloween costumes, most of us were still recognizable to each other. All of us were recognizable to God. We wear costumes but we are not those costumes. We are who we are on the inside.
Every day we put on certain outside facades – personalities – to deal with the world. But our personalities are not our souls, they are not who we really are. They may help us cope but at some point those personalities get in the way of our spiritual formation. My own personality helps me function as a priest, husband, parent, and child. But my personality is not exactly who I am. It’s like a series of costumes I put on to carry out my responsibilities. When I get too wrapped up in my personality and what I do, my heart loses contact with the God who loves me for who I am and I feel worthless.
It’s pretty remarkable how often we all identify ourselves with the costumes we wear. We come to think of ourselves as the roles we fulfill. We define ourselves more in terms of what we do instead of what is inside our hearts. And we quickly lose touch with God and his love for us, confusing our value with our performance.
The way others see us actually seems to encourage a false sense of who we really are. Others see us more for our function than they see who we really are. Others cannot really see who we are on the inside. We can see ourselves more accurately but even we need daily practice to see ourselves less in terms of function and more in terms of being. Self-awareness is the daily work that is assigned to each of us if we are to grow spiritually. We have to look within our hearts and describe that to God in order to experience the transformation God has in mind for us.
Candice’s blessing at the end of Eucharist was one she uses periodically: “God made you. God knows you. And God loves you.” While we spend much of our lives putting on a personality or projecting an image, while we believe our value is merely in what we do, God knows the depths of our hearts. And God loves us for who we are. His love does not overlook us. God knows me and still God loves me.
Each of us, when we do the work of self-awareness and get those glimpses of our true self, finds it hard to believe that God would have any use for us. We spend much of our lives trying to cover up who we really are. Yet that is what God knows, values, loves, and seeks for us to know, value, and love as well.
Costumes and personalities and skill sets are great tools for dealing with a complicated world. Soul work involves knowing that we are more than the image we project. We are created by God to be loved by God and to extend that love to others. Practice compassion in your prayer life. Graciously accept yourself for who you are. And look to the soul of those you meet. May the Christ in me meet the Christ in thee.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.