Who Was That Masked Man? March 14, 2024

In the early 1950’s most of the homes in my neighborhood did not possess televisions. So, without fail at 7:00pm on Thursday evenings, many of the neighborhood children would meet at Marie Troffler’s home to watch our favorite television program, The Lone Ranger. Marie possessed a nifty sixteen inch black and white Motorola TV and provided popcorn and Kool-Aid while we sprawled on the living room floor.

With riveted attention, we quickly became absorbed when the announcer intoned, “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty Hi-ho, Silver, The Lone Ranger!” The program ended with Gioachino Rossini’s, “William Tell Overture,” blaring in the background as the Lone Ranger, wearing his black mask and riding his white horse named Silver, galloped into the next episode made for television. Accompanying the Lone Ranger was his faithful Native American companion, Tonto, riding a horse named, Scout. Tonto, who insisted on calling the Lone Ranger, Kemosabe (trusty scout), was eminently practical in survival skills and saved his pal more than once in each episode. When the Lone Ranger galloped away in a cloud of dust at the end of each episode, on cue we would shout, “Who was that masked man?” 

Gioachino Rossini did not have The Lone Ranger in mind when he composed the finale to his peppy musical score for the “William Tell Overture,” but for my generation just hearing the score still conjures up a masked man on a white horse fighting for truth and justice. The composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein, told stories of conductors who had to stop playing when children in the audience began shouting, “HI-ho Silver, away!”

 Dan Rather, a former anchor for CBS News, once remarked, “An intellectual musical snob is someone who can listen to Rossini’s finale for the “William Tell Overture” and not think of The Lone Ranger.” I haven’t reached the “musical snobbish level,” and I am still apt to feel the rush of energy associated with The Lone Ranger as he galloped into my imagination many years ago in Marie’s living room. The mythical hero on the white horse still looms large in my imagination, as does the quest for truth and justice.

The pandemic of 2020 brought on the use of mask wearing as a preventative health protocol in order to mitigate the effects of the virus, Covid-19. While procuring one of the vaccines available at the time offered more confidence, mask wearing helped to stifle the spread of the virus in larger groups. I recall the first time I walked into a branch office of U.S. Bank, and everyone was wearing a mask. I thought for a moment and realized that no one was attempting to rob the bank! Even the mask wearing Lone Ranger would seem normal under the circumstances.

Traditionally, mask wearing originated in the Greek and Roman theater and would exaggerate the theme of the story (comedy or tragedy) and help to tell the characters apart. While mask wearing is mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 24:65; Exodus 34:33; Isaiah 6:2; I Corinthians 3:15), we are invited never to mask the truth or the gift of God’s justice. Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, railed against the Pharisees and called them hypocrites (pretenders, hiding behind the Law, masking the truth).

Beginning the Fifth Week of Lent, the identity of another “lone ranger” seeking to bring truth and justice to the world becomes clearer. Jesus’ revelation of His mission to the visiting Greeks who “Wished to see Jesus,” prompted a clear statement regarding the conditions of those who were to be His followers. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” Offering a quick insight into the dangers and the perks of His mission, Jesus predicts His own death and resurrection when He uses the simple analogy, “I tell you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:20-33).

No doubt the Greek visitors were perplexed by Jesus’ paradoxical statements and the voice “that came from heaven” validating Jesus’ mission. Before the Greeks could ask the question, “Who was that masked man?” Jesus said: “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted-up from this earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

The gospel account of John does not say whether the Greek visitors understood Jesus or were convinced about becoming disciples, but  the invitation was clear that if you were to follow Jesus, then you must be willing to risk your life in order to save it. The consequences of hearing voices, especially heavenly ones, would, as St. Paul said, seem “foolish to the Greeks and a stumbling block for the Jews.” (I Corinthians 1:23). The question persists: Are we willing to follow the cross of Jesus? Certainly, Lent offers us opportunities to test our faith and commitment to the

Word of God, whether we are wearing masks or not.

Forging a lasting relationship with God can be a comforting experience, especially in times of personal uncertainty and doubt. God speaks to the prophet Jeremiah with great affection regarding the house of Israel when He says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

 God continues to love us, even in the middle of  the uncertainty of a pandemic or personal challenges. Jesus might never fit the metaphor of a masked stranger riding in on a big white horse, but it is nice to imagine Jesus’ plea for justice, truth, and compassion. At some point, we need to break away from galloping through life with high anxiety and discover an oasis where we can take off our masks and be at peace. Perhaps, we could listen to Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” instead of Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” as we try to catch our breath.

As we get closer to Jerusalem on our Lenten journey, we can dare to dream of a better world to come. However, the raging wars in the Ukraine and Gaza sap our strength and ratchet our fears of  ever achieving peace in the Kingdom. Searching for heroes or heroines to lead us on a journey of hope, we must resurrect the images the likes of Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Alexei Navalny to remind us of Jesus’ statement: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Straining to hear the faint sound of the traditional Exsultet (the Proclamation of Easter), we yearn for a Savior, a Kemosabe, who will lead us out of darkness into the light of a Promised Land. Hi-ho, Jesus!

Peace, Fr. Joe Gillespie, O.P.