When I examined the opened bag of Halloween candy on the kitchen counter, I found that the good deacon had been trick-or-treating early. Apparently, he favors Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because they were noticeably outnumbered by the other offerings left in our mini assortment bag of candy. As I contemplated where to hide the remainder of our Halloween cache, I realized that I hadn’t yet settled on a topic for this week’s writing. I’d read the scripture passages several times with the hope of being treated with a bit of inspiration. After I secured our Halloween treats in what I hoped was a deacon-proof hiding place, I returned to my computer. As I began to write, I admitted that the good deacon’s candy assault reminded me of how much I enjoy our annual Halloween Trilogy. Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have always been sources of great hope for me. With that, I turned my thoughts to the two men at prayer in today’s gospel. Each had exhibited hope as well.
Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14) shares Jesus’ observations of these two at prayer. The Pharisee was a devout man who followed the letter of the law to the nth degree. He offered his prayer at the front of the temple. With his eyes turned upward to heaven, he prayed, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…” The Pharisee listed his virtues and good works, contrasting his situation with that of the lowly tax collector who bowed down at the back of the temple. That tax collector knelt on the floor with his head bent low. He dared not raise his eyes as he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” As I reflected upon this scene, it occurred to me that the reason for both men’s prayer was hope. Though they displayed their hope with very different attitudes and words, each man came to the temple with hope in God’s promises. After giving those present a moment to consider the scene, Jesus assured them that the tax collector’s hope was fulfilled by the Lord. This poor man had asked for forgiveness and he received it. The Pharisee, on the other hand, had asked for nothing. What did he receive in return? Both men prayed with hope, one daring to hope for God’s mercy and one quite hopeful that he already stood in God’s favor.
As I prepared to write, I smiled with the hope that I’d saved our Halloween candy from totally disappearing before this year’s trick-or-treaters came to the door. Afterward, I directed my hope toward Halloween Trilogy 2019. The costumed urchins who roam our neighborhoods on Halloween don’t realize that they’re echoing the efforts of long ago pagans who dressed in eerie garb to detract from the church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day. I’m glad that the children among us are unaware of the roots of their annual quest for candy. On this day, ignorance is bliss! They’re free to be children filled with the hope that they’re bags will hold as much candy as possible by the time trick-or-treat hours end.
While sorting through that Halloween candy, we adults turn our thoughts to November 1 which is All Saints Day. On this special day, we honor the souls who’ve gone before us to make their homes in heaven. They include all who enjoy God’s company in eternity, but who may not have been formally declared saints by the church. When we celebrate All Saints Day, we acknowledge that even at our worst, we hold the potential for sainthood within us. This is a bit of hope which I contemplate every Halloween as I dole out candy to the princesses, super heroes, hobos and vampires who make their way to my door. As my amused eyes soak them in, I wonder if God looked with equal amusement upon the Pharisee and tax collector who portrayed their hope so differently that day in the temple. As for me, I hope that God looks with amusement upon each of us as we journey home to heaven. I also hope that God is as generous with the blessings we need as we are with our Halloween candy. Actually, considering the number of Reese’s that went missing from the Penich candy supply, I hope God is more generous than we are!
The third day of our trilogy is November 2, All Souls Day (The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed). On this day, we remember all of our loved ones who’ve passed away. None of us is certain of how God handles our imperfections when we take them with us from this life to the next. Nonetheless, we are certain that these imperfections are met with mercy. This is the reason both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed in the temple that day. Each came with the hope that God would listen because God loved him. It is our hope in the same loving and merciful God which urges our prayer for our loved ones who’ve passed away. Indeed, the potential for sainthood remains within them and within us all.
Hope-in-waiting and hope-fulfilled are the driving forces behind this week of goblins and witches, saints and souls. As I enjoy this trilogy of hope, I’ll pray that both the Pharisee and the tax collector within each of us will also walk among the saints one day.
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