The month of October opens with the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who is known for having preached “the Little Way”. By reminding us of the biblical teaching on spiritual childhood, St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught us that we should not be afraid of God nor of aspiring to be saints despite our weaknesses, because it is precisely our littleness that attracts God’s mercy and compassion.
The following day, October 2, is the feast of the Guardian Angels – our guides and allies in our quest for sanctity.
Devotees of St. Josemaria Escriva know that it was on the feast of the Guardian Angels that he founded Opus Dei – another reminder of the universal call to sanctity and of the truth that sanctity is an accessible, albeit challenging, goal.
The month ends with the eve of All Saints’ Day, more popularly known as Halloween.
The appropriateness of Catholics celebrating Halloween in the popular manner of doing it is hotly debated. It is hard to give a blanket condemnation or approval of it, however, because people do it in different ways. On one side of the spectrum are those who dabble in the occult on the occasion; on the other side are those who hold saint-themed costume parties. In between are those for whom Halloween is just an occasion for good clean fun, playing dress-up, and perhaps a little bit of spookiness.
My own take is that barring downright sinful activities, the celebration of Halloween is a matter for every Catholic’s prudential judgment. Furthermore, while dabbling in the occult is definitely a no-no, neither are saint-themed costume parties obligatory (though they definitely can be a good catechetical tool), nor should a reasonable degree of spookiness be forbidden.
In fact, just as a morbid fascination for the occult is dangerous, it is equally harmful to ignore the reality of evil as if the saints were born with halos and never had to contend with the dark side of life. It is healthy to remind ourselves that spiritual warfare is a reality. And scattered throughout the month of October are feasts to remind us of what are our weapons in spiritual warfare.
October 1 reminds us of the need for childlike trust in God that St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminded us. October 2 reminds us of the help of the Guardian Angels. The feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4 reminds us of the need to practice poverty and detachment. October 7 reminds us of the power of the Rosary. The feast of St. Teresa of Ávila on Oct. 15 reminds us of the need to develop a life of prayer. The feast of St. Luke the Evangelist on Oct. 18 reminds us to “use the force” of the Gospel. The feast of the apostles Sts. Simon and Jude on Oct. 28 reminds us that all of us are called to be apostles too; apostolate, after all, is also a form of spiritual warfare.
After the last day of October is All Saints’ Day. We have been reminded the whole month of what our goal is in life and how we are to attain it. So we begin a new month reminding us of the reward for our efforts, and renew our resolve to continue working and to fight once more.
“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know” — ‘Even so, sir.’” — C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
“Indeed, the most terrible thing for the soul is the inner tear produced by a love that, because of these still not completely annihilated impediments, sees his perfect possession of God delayed… Purgatory is a crescendo of love and pain that leads to heaven, the perfect happiness. The souls in purgatory do experience great joy, similar to that of the Heavens, and also experience an immense pain, similar to that of Hell; and one does not remove the other.”
— St. Catherine of Genoa1
“My sister, if you desire God’s justice, you will have God’s justice. The soul receives exactly what she looks for from God… You do a great injury to God in believing you’re going to go to Purgatory. When we love, we can’t go there.” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux2
Purgatory, as the name suggests, is a state of purgation, a purification of the soul.3 From the earliest days of the Catholic Church, Christians prayed for the dead – we know this from inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome.4 There is no need to pray for those in Heaven, and there is no point in praying for those in Hell. The belief in a state of purification after death comes from the Jewish tradition: 2 Maccabees 12:46 says: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”5
Sometimes people have the misconception that Purgatory is equidistant between Heaven and Hell. Hell is the state of eternal separation from God, the source of all life and love. Those in Purgatory are united to Christ, as the Church Suffering – that’s why they are the Holy Souls. They are infinitely closer to Heaven and the Church Triumphant than those in Hell could ever be; they rejoice, for they have been saved. Their pain is like the pain of being almost with the person you love more than anything in the world; it is the pain of deep longing for perfect bliss.6
Souls in Purgatory rely on our loving prayers to enter into the presence of God. The Museum of Purgatory in Rome houses artifacts of purgatorial visitors pleading for the intercession of the Church Militant;7 the booklet Read Me or Rue Itby Fr Paul O’Sullivan records similar visitations.
“Halloween” is short for “All Hallows’ Eve”, the night before All Saints Day. It was an old English custom that people would beg from door to door for a “soul cake” and in return, pray for the family’s dearly departed – the origin of today’s “Trick or Treat” (and possibly donuts). Today, faithful Catholics continue the beautiful tradition of a novena for the souls in Purgatory, praying in cemeteries during the month of November, which is dedicated to the Holy Souls. By this, we may gain indulgences for them. We also cultivate the habit of praying the short Eternal Rest prayer each time we pass a cemetery.8
In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” (CCC 1475)
In a vision, St. Gertrude the Great was told by Our Lord that reciting the following prayer with love and devotion will release 1,000 souls from Purgatory:
“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus,
in union with the Masses said throughout the world today,
for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere,
“Do not be afraid of going to purgatory because of its pain, but rather long not to go there because this pleases God who imposes this expiation so regretfully. From the moment that you try to please Him in all things, if you have the unshakable confidence that He will purify you at every instant in His love and will leave in you no trace of sin, be very sure that you will not go to purgatory.” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux
God is purifying us throughout our lives by the crosses He gives us,9 the crosses which divest us of self-love, attachment to worldly goods, or sin – the crosses which open us to receive His salvific grace, the gift of Himself. Of course, it is very difficult to die in a state of perfection unless you are martyred, but as the saying goes: if you aim for the moon, you’ll land among the stars. Don’t aim for Purgatory – aim for Heaven!10 For Heaven is perfect union with God.
Purgatory, of course, is not someplace any of us are supposed to end up. God calls each of us to purify our lives of every sin while we are still alive here on earth. Indeed, we are called not only to purify our lives of every sin, but to purify the universe of every consequence of every sin we may have committed.
— Steve Kellmeyer, “Nailing Christ to the Cross: Explaining Purgatory and Indulgences“
Purgatory was rejected by our Reformers, as undermining the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement; for it was taken to be the serving of a sentence by which the guilt of Christians was in some way worked off.
Such an objection has no force against the teaching, that we have a pain to pass through, in being reconciled to truth and love. And we may as well call this pain purgatorial, having no other name to call it. It seems strange, indeed, that so practical and pressing a truth as that of purgatory should be dismissed… Nor is it that ultimate fire is scriptural, while remedial fire is not. Remedial fire was taught plainly enough by St. Paul to his Corinthians. — Austin Farrer, Saving Belief (1964)
Purgatory is not… some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where one is forced to undergo punishments in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather it is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God [i.e., capable of full unity with Christ and God] and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints. Simply to look at people with any degree of realism at all is to grasp the necessity of such a process. …What actually saves is the full assent of faith. But in most of us, that basic option is buried under a great deal of wood, hay and straw. Only with difficulty can it peer out from behind the latticework of an egoism we are powerless to pull down with our own hands. Man is the recipient of the divine mercy, yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy.
— Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (1988)
All Souls Day is unique among our liturgical feasts, because while all others celebrate members of the Church Triumphant, this one day of the year is dedicated to the members of the Church Suffering. It is also known as Soulmas, just as we have Christmas, Marymas, Roodmas, Michaelmas, Childermas, Candlemas, Hallowmas… it just wouldn’t be a feast without the Mass, the Heavenly Banquet where we receive the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation. Remember to have Masses offered for your dearly departed! There is no greater gift on Earth or in Heaven, for this is God’s gift of Himself, His supreme act of love gathering us all into one family and one Body. Each and every Mass is a foretaste of Heaven, a cosmic outpouring of the purifying fire of Love.
Christ revealed to St. Gertrude that a single Mass offered for oneself during life may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death. After your death, you cannot change the conduct of your life on which your particular judgment is based (Matthew 25). You can only submit to the cleansing power of God’s love, the application of Christ’s sacrifice to your soul. That is why the dead depend on us for prayers — for we as the living members of Christ’s body have been entrusted with the solemn duty of caring for our brothers, in life and in death; we have been granted the grace to participate in bringing God’s kingdom to birth throughout all Creation, visible and invisible. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.
Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual.
— St. Thomas Aquinas
When we do ourselves up in costumes and tromp through the streets on Halloween, we are marching in a kind of Veterans’ Day Parade in honor of the sinners who went before us, not yet into glory but into the painful, therapeutic shadow it casts outside its doors. — John Zmirak, “My High Holy Day“, CatholiCity
We have loved them in life, let us not forget them in death. — St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)
Supermarkets in Australia have been full of Hallowe’en décor since early September. One could join in the laments about how Christmas decorations appear unseasonably early in October, hot cross buns are available in the middle of Lent, plus Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the great Apostles to the Slavs, keep being so impolitely overlooked in the annual St. Valentine’s Day mêlée (I can just imagine them sending prank soppy cards to St. Valentine in Glagolitic, the precursor of Cyrillic).
Sixty years of advertising broke two millenia of Christian practice. Halloween has now become the closest thing we have to an Advent season. Advent is now a four-week long Christmas season, and Christmas season is now Purgatory.
—Steve Kellmeyer, “Nailing Christ to the Cross”
However, one could also contemplate how ingrained Christianity is in Western culture, although deformed by marketing and Mammon. Just as you can never lose the indelible mark of baptism on your soul, configuring you to Christ, and how Gollum still had the nature of a hobbit, albeit a horrendously deformed one, Western civilisation can never lose its intrinsically Christian character.
If you join the Taliban, you will merely be regarded as a bad Catholic.
So, what exactly is Hallowe’en all about? Why do we dress up in strange costumes and go trick-or-treating? As a Yahoo Answers questioner asked, “Why is Halloween a thing?”
It is the eve of All Saints’ Day, when vigil Masses were celebrated in honor of the feast.
Not a particularly revelatory fact for Catholics – but when people have appropriated our culture, our high holy days, it’s high time to take them back.
Hurrah! History to the Rescue!
Here are some historical facts to give out with your Hallowe’en treats next year – of course, it all began with blood and gore:
In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. We also find mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom (407)… The vigil seems to have been held as early as the feast itself.
—“All Saints’ Day”, New Advent
The origin of the festival of All Saints as celebrated in the West dates to May 13, 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since.
The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”, with the day moved to November 1.
—“All Saints’ Day”, Wikipedia
In 998, St. Odilo, the abbot of the powerful monastery of Cluny in Southern France, added a celebration on Nov. 2. This was a day of prayer for “the souls of all the faithful departed.” This feast, called All Souls’ Day, spread from France to the rest of Europe.
That took care of Heaven and Purgatory. The Irish, being the Irish, thought it unfair to leave the souls in Hell out. So on Hallowe’en they would bang pots and pans to let the souls in Hell know they were not forgotten. However, the Feast of All Damned never caught on, for fairly obvious theological reasons. The Irish, however, had another day for partying.
After the Black Death, All Souls Day became more important, and a popular motif was the Danse Macabre (Dance of Death). It usually showed the devil “leading a daisy chain of people — popes, kings, ladies, knights, monks, peasants, lepers, etc. — into the tomb.” Sometimes the dance was presented on All Souls’ Day itself as a living tableau with people dressed up in the garb of various walks of life.
“But the French dressed up on All Souls, not Hallowe’en; and the Irish, who had Hallowe’en, did not dress up.” During the 1700s the Irish and French Catholics began to bump into one another in British North America and the two traditions mingled. The Irish focus on hell gave the French masquerades an even more macabre twist.
—Mike Flynn, “A Miscellany of Saints”, The Auld Blogge
Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, Allsaintstide, or the Hallowmas season, is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Saints’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’) and All Souls’ Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually. Allhallowtide is a “time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians.”
On the trick-or-treating point, stay tuned for tomorrow’s article on Soulmas.
What Does it Mean to be a Saint?
Ok, now we’ve got that sorted, what is a saint? What does it mean to be holy? Do I have to change into someone I’m not? Will I have to give up all my human predilections, my favourite hobbies? Aren’t pious people boring? What an unnatural way to live! Why do they never shut up about this Jesus dude?
FIRST, some autobiographical insight. When I was in law school, it just about killed my soul. Spending hours sifting through cases and legislation was not my thing. It felt meaningless to me, a treadmill of paperwork going nowhere.
I spent my entire final semester in early 2012 obsessing about becoming a nun and dedicating my life in a completely meaningful way, bringing the kingdom of God to birth. Between final exams and graduation in Brisbane, I snuck off to Perth for a heavenly nine days in a convent.
On the fifth day of working in a Singaporean law firm, I quit, booked a one-way ticket to Perth, and ran away to join the Franciscans of the Immaculate (my mother, being a lawyer, was dead set on me becoming a lawyer). Yes, yes, I know, just like St. Clare, sans wedding gown. I spent a few days saying goodbye to my friends forever, and on the Feast of St. Mary of the Angels, I left Singapore for good, or so I thought.
Two weeks in, I was in trouble.
Firstly, I missed books. Yes, there was plenty of splendid spiritual reading to be had, and I took copious notes which I’ve carried around to this day. But my favourite genres are fantasy, adventure, and mystery. I love fiction, and without it, I felt that I was missing an important chunk of humanity.
Secondly, I missed non-Catholics. I had the blessing of studying in great authentically Catholic schools from kindergarten to junior college, plus the tremendous grace of a vibrant Latin Mass community in Brisbane during my university days, but many of my best friends were not Catholic. In the convent, I received four letters – two were from Anglicans, and one was from a Presbyterian. (Mother Superior had to read the mail before giving it to me – I don’t think so many Protestants had written before!)
Thirdly, I missed male companionship. I have only one sibling, a big brother, and I am close to my father. Several of my closest friends are male. Although I had been to all-girls’ schools for a decade of my life, and my junior college class had only three males in it (Arts class, what do you expect?), I really missed that dimension of human interaction.
My fellow aspirant reflected that Our Lady sometimes calls people to the convent or friary for a lifetime, and other times she calls us for a particular time of formation, which we are then able to use in later life to help form other people. My time in the convent was a marvellous grace, not just for what I received, but also for what I didn’t receive.
It was devastating giving up that dream, but in the convent, I remembered that two years before, I had wanted to transfer to a liberal arts college after reading its prospectus, because its courses looked right up my alley! Now that my mother understood my deep aversion to law, she agreed that I could pursue the liberal arts, even though she was afraid it wouldn’t help me land a good job.
Enough of that – back to saints! So, what is being a saint? It is being yourself, the best possible version of your true self.
If you wish to be a saint, do not imitate past saints in their uniqueness. Rather, imitate them in their commitment. Francis was nothing more than Francis. Augustine was only Augustine. Therese, Therese and Aquinas, Aquinas. All they ever did was play the part assigned to them extremely well. —“On Sainthood“, The Stained Glass Buffalo
Did a Magdalene, a Paul, a Constantine, an Augustine become mountains of ice after their conversion? Quite the contrary. We should never have had these prodigies of conversion and marvellous holiness if they had not changed the flames of human passion into volcanoes of immense love of God.
—St. Frances Cabrini
There are only two kinds of people: saints, who know they are sinners, and sinners, who think they are saints.
We might even say that the one thing which separates a saint from ordinary men is his readiness to be one with ordinary men.
—G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas
The saying goes that the hypocrite looks upon the sinner and thanks God that he is not like them. The saint looks upon the sinner and thanks God because he is like them. The saint knows that without grace, sin would be his lot. No amount of effort, no amount of hard work can keep us from sin. Try as we may, without grace, sin and its consequences would be all we know. An unearned gift, grace is that help for which, too often in our pride, we do not ask. No amount of effort, no matter how well intentioned, can restore that which is lost through sin. Only God can do that. And here is the crazy thing, He has.
—Pat Archbold, “Graceland“, National Catholic Register
Sanctity is holiness, authentic wholeness. We have been born into a broken world marred by sin; the Good News is that in spite of all the pain, loss and evil in the world, we can still become whole, we can be truly fulfilled. My favourite Bible verse is John 10:10, where Jesus tells us, “I have come to bring life, and life to the full.” (emphasis mine)
Gloria Dei est vivens homo; vita hominis visio Dei:
The glory of God is man fully alive; the life of man is the vision of God.
—St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, Book 4 Ch. 20
How are we fulfilled as humans? By Love. What is Love? It is God. God alone is all-holy, perfect, unchanging, life-giving. The scandal of the Cross is that our transcendent God lowered Himself to be corrupted by the sins of mankind. The triumph of the Cross is that sin and death did not have the last word, because God destroyed them by taking them into Himself. Great story, huh? Yes. It is the greatest and truest Story ever told. And that story is meant to be lived out in my life, in your life, in every human life. That is sainthood. This is why we celebrate the saints – because they are living icons of Christ.
It is good to venerate the crucifix. But even better than images of wood or stone are living images, souls formed in the image of Christ.
—Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)
We should imitate the virtues of the saints just as they imitated Christ, for in their virtues there shines forth under different aspects the splendor of Jesus Christ.
—Pope Pius XII
If the friendship of saints living in this world fills us with love for God, how much more then shall we gain by considering the Saints in glory, by invoking them, and taking them for our protectors!
—St. John Vianney
Clearly, if we venerate [the memory of the saints], it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning. Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company.
I shall leave you with more quotes from the communion of saints on Earth and in Heaven. Blessed Allhallowmas Day!
To call someone a saint is to describe the fullness of the presence of Christ within the soul of that individual. So to honor a saint really isn’t to glorify the saintly individual but rather Christ within them, and any soul so closely bound to the Lord is glorified by the glory of God of which they are vessels of and which we ourselves should seek to be vessels of. —C. Martin, Catholic Splash
Those in the Catholic Church, whom some rebuke for praying to Saints and going on pilgrimages, do not seek any Saint as their saviour. Instead, they seek Saints as those whom their Saviour loves, and whose intercession and prayer for the seeker He will be content to hear. For His Own sake, He would have those He loves honoured. And when they are thus honoured for His sake, then the honour that is given them for His sake overflows especially to Himself.
—St. Thomas More
You say you see no reason why we should pray to the Saints since God can hear us and help us just as well, and will do so gladly, as any Saint in Heaven. Well, then, what need, I ask, do you have to ask any physician to help your fever, or to ask and pay any surgeon to heal your sore leg? For God can both hear you and help you as well as the best of doctors. He loves you more than they do, and He can help you sooner. Besides — His poultices are cheaper and He will give you more for your words alone than they will for your money!
—St. Thomas More
Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of His way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today. Shine His light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free.
—Pope Benedict XVI, Greeting to Young People, St Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, 19 April 2008
Believe me, don’t wait until tomorrow to begin becoming a saint.
—St. Thérèse of Lisieux
O God, I not only want to be all Yours, I wish to be a Saint. Since I do not know whether my life will be long or short, I tell You that I want to be a Saint soon.
—St. John Bosco
Real Christian holiness is about entering into God’s life, giving over one’s life to God, becoming like God, loving as God loves in one’s daily life. And, of course, “becoming like God” and “loving as God loves,” as the example of Jesus shows us, means self-giving, self-offering and self-less service of others, modeled after the example of Jesus. Christian holiness, then, always stands under the Cross, as the great pattern of pouring out our lives in love and in service of others. In many ways, there is nothing more “this-worldly” than true holiness.
—Fr. Mark O’Keefe, OSB
All the saints will have their own brightness, different in each case, yet equal. Christ’s judgment will not advance one at the expense of another’s deserving merit. All will have Christ as their kingdom, light, life, and crown. Note how the teachers of the Old and New Testaments differ in their deeds but are paired in glory, for the one Wisdom issued twin Laws in the two Testaments, so equal distinction gives the same weight to differing powers. Peter did not divide the sea with a rod, but then Moses did not walk on the waters. However, both have the same bright glory, for the one Creator inspired both the cleavage of the waters with a rod and the treading of the waves underfoot. The God of the saints of old is also the God of the new.
—St. Paulinus of Nola
God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.
When the Church keeps the memorials of martyrs and other saints during the annual cycle, she proclaims the Paschal mystery in those “who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ. She proposes them to the faithful as examples who draw all men to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she begs for God’s favors.” —CCC #1173
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. —Hebrews 12:1
I never had a clear position on whether Catholics can celebrate Halloween. On the one hand, most Halloween parties I have been to were just good, clean, spooky fun. Furthermore, I have a legitimate reason to celebrate Halloween: I was born on that day.
On the other hand, I see merit in the views that Halloween has links with the demonic, that Halloween parties can increase children’s threshold of tolerance for evil, and that it is better to pay attention to All Saints’ Day.
One reason I find it hard to decide whether celebrating Halloween is a good idea for Catholics is that there are diverse ways of doing it. There are those who observe what I call “hard core” Halloween, whose Halloween activities include tarot readings, Ouija board, and spirit of the glass. For others, Halloween is merely an occasion for scary stories, coupled with the fun of wearing costumes of all kinds and collecting candy – and, for those in northern countries, enjoying autumn weather. And yes, there are those who prefer to celebrate Halloween with saints-themed costume parties.
Obviously, no Catholic should have anything to do with the “hard core” Halloween celebrations. Obviously, too, saints-themed costumed parties are a wonderful idea, and not just for children – I sometimes wonder how a saint-themed costumed party for adults would turn out.
What about those whose Halloween celebrations fall somewhere in between – not “hard core” but not saints-themed either?
I believe that within the limits imposed by the Catholic Church – e.g., no real witchcraft, fortune-telling, divination, and other similar activities, and no exposing oneself unnecessarily to proximate occasions of sin – the question of whether to hold a Halloween party, and how to do it, rests on the prudential judgment of every individual Catholic, especially parents who have to decide these questions for their children. Personally, I would not require parents to bring their children to a saints-themed party, but at the same time, I respect parents who do not think a traditional Halloween party is good idea. After all, parents are the best judges of their children’s capacity to distinguish pretend-play from reality, their children’s vulnerability to Halloween spookiness, as well as how much spookiness to allow. Thus, for example, in planning the decorations, parents may decide that cotton cobwebs, plastic bats, and jack-o-lanterns are okay while fake bloody corpses are not. In planning their children’s costumes, parents may decide to allow some scary costumes like vampires and witches, but draw the line at devil costumes.
Still, the question lingers: is it appropriate at all for a Catholic to enjoy Halloween spookiness? By dressing up as frightening beings, putting up horror houses, and having fun scaring others, are we not glorifying evil even if we do not actually dabble in dark arts?
I think that to answer this question, distinctions must be made between glorifying evil and merely mimicking it. We must also remember that evil is a reality, and for us to deny that it is so facilitates, rather than hinders, the victory of evil.
For some, Halloween may be an occasion for dangerously mingling with evil. But for others, it could also be a healthy reminder of the spiritual warfare that we wage our entire lives. We comfortably and conveniently forget it, but throughout the entire year, and not just on October 31st, we must battle against forces dragging us to hell. We need the reminder that these forces are real, that they are scary, but that at the same time, we can fight and defeat them. In fact, we honor the victors every year on November 1st.
Certainly All Saints’ Day is more important than Halloween. On All Saints’ Day, we honor those who have won their battles against evil, and we recall what will be in store for us if we, too, win ours. But Halloween can remind us of what we must fight against if we want to be saints. In this way, Halloween spookiness has its role to play in our lives as Catholics.
Meanwhile, as long as they avoid sin and practice prudence, there is no reason Catholics cannot enjoy themselves on October 31st of each year in the manner they choose.
As Halloween approaches, I hear people commenting on their costumes, debating the perfect way to capture a vampire, make a ghost, or exemplify a zombie. Zombies always capture my attention. Zombies in our culture are all the rage, a new season of Walking Dead is in full swing, and another version of “Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse” has hit the shelves. Yet, I can’t help but think that the walking dead are already real. They’re here. They’re all around us. You see them every day. Our culture is full of walking dead.
Every day, millions of innocent lives are senselessly taken in the act of abortion. Those babies die alone, afraid and dismembered in what is supposed to be the safest place on earth. I cannot imagine a worse fate…except for one.
That of the woman and the abortionist.
While these children die a horrible death, they are fully dead and welcomed with loving grief into the arms of our Heavenly Father. They only die once, and they are reunited with the One who loves them most of all. The woman, on the other hand, relives that death every day, and it’s not just 1 death. It’s multiple deaths. She has to relive the act of killing her child, the act of killing her soul, and, in a sense, the act of killing Christ… “for whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me…”
Yet she is still alive. She thus finds herself in a perpetual state of death-while-living, a constant berating of death in life.
This woman has become the new walking dead, a walking form of a person who used to be whole. While she on the outside has not changed in appearance, her soul now exists in some decaying half-life; alive enough to keep her on earth, but not alive enough to animate her, give her spunk, make her human. Just as zombies of Hollywood roam the land searching for living meat because, really, they long to be alive, so too does this woman long to live again. She becomes bitter and resentful – out to eat all the joy around her – because, really, she longs to have it again.
Yet, there are other walking dead among us who are perhaps even better examples of today’s zombies. The abortionists. The abortionist personifies zombies perfectly; just as the zombie satiates his desire for human flesh by destroying it, so too does the abortionist mutilate his soul in the same way he mutilates his victims. He satiates his perverted desire for human flesh in every twist, rip, gauge, and shred, simultaneously destroying his soul until one can hardly recognize the form of his once human essence. Indeed, the abortionist’s death-life is scarier than the woman’s because he doesn’t seem aware of his death-in-life in the way the woman does. He is simply out for more humans, because, just as Hollywood’s zombies do, well, that’s just what he does. While the woman zombie merely suffers a death-life, the abortionist actively lives a death-life, transforming him into a grotesque monster, wholly unrecognizable from the beloved child God created him to be.
Indeed, we can go further. Our entire culture is a walking dead, victim of the “virus” of abortion that has since eradicated the human race. Fathers of now dead children that have killed their manhood, denied their purpose, and turned on the women in their life find themselves stunted, unable to grow due to this soul-destroying decision. Grandparents, who failed to stand up for their grandchildren, now face the depressing existence of knowing they stood idly by while their grandchildren were killed; they face the death-life existence of a missing child. Indeed, the abortion “virus” has infected or affected everyone, either directly killing them, killing someone close, or placing its victims in a zombie-like, death-life existence.
The only ones left are those desperately fighting it, trying to find the cure, attempting to stop its spread.
We need to recognize that the incorruptible, all-consuming, fire of Christ’s love is the only thing that can cure the pandemic “virus” of abortion. Christ still sees their humanity. Through their grotesque ugliness, Christ sees a lost sheep, a prodigal son, a beloved child. If Christ can see that, then we are called to see that. Moreover, if Christ mourns for that, then more so are we called to mourn for that. We are Christ’s body, we are called to be Him to others. We must see that the true victims of abortion are actually the living and take to them the cure for the virus that has infected their soul. Only then will abortion cease, only then can we rejoice, for the killing will have stopped and the prodigal son will return home.
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