Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; 1 Thess. 5:16-24; Gospel of John 1:6-8,19-28
Living Authentically – our Masks!

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 17 December 2017

As we enter into the Third Week of Advent, the graces that God wants to specially give us this week is “Joy”.  This “Joy” is the anticipation of the Coming of Christ to fill our hearts and homes.  While we celebrate this truth of our faith, we are called also to reflect on the reality of why for many of us, one of the most nagging truth about the daily experiences of the faith is, “Why is my heart not experiencing the peace and joy that Jesus proclaims, and the Church, as the Body of Christ, is offering us?”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps the authenticity of John the Baptist whom we just heard proclaimed in today’s Gospel tells us what may be happening within our hearts and in our lives.

John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel is a man who is sent by God . . . as a witness to speak for the Light; a voice that cries in the wilderness; one who makes a straight way for the Lord, and is not fit to undo the straps of Jesus’ sandals.  If we reflect on the way John the Baptist lives, we see how he is a man of great integrity, courage and passion in the way he lives out the divine mission of preparing and pointing his followers to Jesus, as the Saviour and Lord.  In other words, John the Baptist lived a life of great authenticity and truth.  Inspired by John the Baptist’s authentic living, we are each called to reflect on whether we are living authentic lives or are we our own obstacles of receiving the graces of the “Joy” that God wants to give to you and to me during this the Third Week of Advent. 

An anonymous author wrote this reflection about himself, which I will adapt and use for our homily today.  He speaks of the masks he wears, and I believe his reflection may help us understand why perhaps many of us may not be experiencing the “Joy” of God in our lives, as God wills of us.  

As the author speaks about himself, we could imagine him speaking to someone who is very close to him.  This could be his spouse.  So, this is what he says of himself: Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear.  For I wear a thousand masks; masks that I am afraid to take off and none of them are really me.  Pretending is an art that is second nature with me.  I give the impression that I am secure; that everything is fine with me; that confidence is my name and coolness is my game.  And that I need no one.  But, don’t be fooled by me.

My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask.  Beneath the mask is the real me – confused, frightened and alone.  But I hide this.  I don’t want anyone to know it.  I panic at the thought of my weakness and I fear being exposed.  That’s why I create a mask to hide behind – a nonchalant, sophisticated façade to help me pretend and to shield me from the glance that knows my true inner self.

I know that such a glance is my salvation.  I know that if it is followed by acceptance; if it is followed by love; it will give me the assurance of what I can’t assure myself – that I am lovable and worthy of being loved.

But I can’t tell you this.  I don’t dare. I’m afraid to.  I am afraid that your glance will not be followed by acceptance and love.  I’m afraid that you will think less of me; that you’ll laugh at me and your laughter will kill me.  I’m afraid that deep down I’m nothing; that I’m not good enough and that you will see this and reject me.  So, I play my desperate game by wearing a mask of assurance on the outside; but the reality is that there is a trembling child on the inside.

I chatter away with surface talk; I tell you everything that is really nothing and not worth bothering about.  But when I go through my routine, don’t be fooled by what I am saying.  Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m also not saying, but would like to say, but can’t. 

In all honesty, I don’t like hiding behind my masks.  I don’t like the superficial game I am playing.  I would really like to be genuine and spontaneous and be the really me, when I relate to you.   But, you have got to help me.  You have got to hold out your hand even when that is the last thing I seem to want.  Never give up on me; help me remove the masks I am wearing.  In fact, you do this each time you are kind, gentle and encouraging and show that you really care.  With your sensitivity and sympathy and your deep understanding of me, you were indeed helping me be my true self again.

I want you to know how important you are to me; how you can help me become the authentic person that I long to be and become, because I am too weak to help myself.  You can help me break the walls behind which I tremble; you can help me free myself from my world of uncertainty and insecurity . . . that I long to be freed from. 

The long years of insecurity and feeling worthless have built strong walls within my heart.  The closer you came to me, the more I fought back against you.  I fought against the very thing that I needed.  But, I know that if you persist in loving me and not give up on me, then your love would be stronger than the highest walls that I have built – and that is my hope. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, I believe this reflection could be used by us as a personal reflection, and could even be more useful if we adapt it as our personal conversation with Jesus.  And if so, then the prayer could be as follows: “My Lord, please break down these walls of my heart with Your Gentle hands and Compassionate Heart for I am a child who is very vulnerable, sensitive and weak.  Please take my masks away and help me.  More importantly, help me let You accept me and love me as I am, so that I can also accept myself as I am, and as from today, live a more truthful and authentic life.

And in doing so, we will then be asking Jesus for the graces we need to help us remove the masks that we are wearing so that we will then be able to live more truthfully and authentically.  Our hearts and homes would surely then become more open to receiving the abundant graces and the gift of “Joy” that God wants to give to you and to me, and our families.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us be reminded that living a wholesome life will bring peace to our hearts, but living in wholesome life out of love for God our Father, and our personal love for Jesus, will give us the gift of the graces of a “Joy” that is divine and everlasting.  

Indeed, this is a “Joy” that nothing in this world and no human relationships can give because the blessings of God’s Love is infinite, unconditional and everlasting.  Are we open to these blessings?  If so, then let us pray for the graces to have the wisdom of the Spirit that John the Baptist had . . . that like him, we too will live a more authentic life instead of wearing masks and putting on pretences that will rob us of the “Joy” that God wants to give us this Third Week of Advent.

(Adapted from: The Mustard Seed, Reflections for Daily Living, by Joseph A.Galdon,SJ.; pub.: Bookmark Inc. & Maryknoll College Class 1968; 1991; pg.173-174.)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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