31 Oct 2010
“We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with Him …” (2 Thess. 2:1) In the name …
My friend who is a dentist told me this story. It was 5PM on a Halloween afternoon when a dental hygienist realized that she would not be able to get to the store in time after work to buy candy for that night’s trick-or-treaters. So she took home some free samples from the office’s supply cabinet. That night she handed out dozens of toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss to all of the kids who knocked on her door. The following year when Halloween rolled around again on the calendar, even though she had made it a point to head out to the story early enough to buy candy for the trick-or-treaters, not one child came knocking at her door. Her reputation from the previous year warned all of the kids to stay away. That’s what they were scared of on Halloween. Not real witches and ghosts and demons. But the lady who gave out toothbrushes and toothpaste. That was a practical kind of fear, not a superstitious one.
Today is Halloween. The word is derived from the Old English All Hallow’s Eve, which is the day before what we now call All Saints Day, the saints being the “hallowed ones,” the “holy ones.” Tomorrow we will again have the opportunity to gather together at church and celebrate God’s promise to us of eternal life with Him in heaven. If you have a biblical concordance at home, a book that lists every time any given word is used in the Bible, and you went home after Mass today and looked up the word saint and the word saints, you would there discover that there is only one use of the word saint in the singular, but that there are over 60 uses of saints in the plural. The earliest church wasn’t talking so much about exemplary individuals of faith, Christians such as St. Paul and St. Peter, the two saints depicted on our Main Altar. Rather, the usage referred to all the people of the church. In the language of the earliest church, we are the saints. This meant that there were no definitions of believer that did not include trying to become more Christ-like in our lives, to be saintly in other words.
Church was the earthly gathering of the saints, the ones who when they passed from this world would become the saints that gathered around Christ in the next world. All Saints Day celebrates God’s promise of eternal life, and the victory of those believers who have already entered into heaven. But somehow into this glorious celebration of the victory of eternal life that Jesus won for all of us, superstition intervened and corrupted it. As the church prepared to celebrate on All Saints Day the thin line between the heavenly saints and the earthly saints, superstition went into high gear and turned attention away from the promise of life after death and focused our attention instead on the living dead, and thus Halloween.
And Halloween still has an awful lot to do with all that is scary in a supernatural sense. It’s hard to scare people today intentionally. They know when they go on haunted hay rides or to Six Flags that all those things that go crash in the night are props and actors. But ask a person to walk through a cemetery alone at night or to even sit in a pitch black church all by themselves, and I’ll bet more than a few would be apprehensive. I think for more than a few there is still a connection between the spiritual and the spooky. Just like with All Saints Day and Halloween the promise becomes perverted, the unknown that is filled with hope becomes the unknown that is dangerous. This is the reason why I invited whoever wanted to, to come to church today in a Halloween costume. Whether the costume is cute, funny or scary, it’s to make the point that Halloween is for fun not for real, and that the spiritual is based on hope not horror. Those kids who avoided the lady who one year passed out toothpaste and toothbrushes because they were scared that she would do it again, those kids in Halloween costumes had a practical sense of the scary not a superstitious one, and all of us can learn from that example.
There’s a lot to be afraid of in this world. We don’t need to add the supernatural to the list. It makes a lot more sense to be afraid of terrorism, crime, global warming, being struck by lightning, school lunches or even the catechism test this Wednesday than it does to be afraid of ghosts or even demons. Do you all remember the movie The Exorcist? It was about this girl who was possessed by a demon and about the priest who freed her. One of the traditional Minor Orders on the way to the priesthood was the Order of Exorcist, the grace given to expel demons. When Bp. Hodur set his mark upon our church, he consciously pushed away from such superstitions. All of the priests of our church who have gone through Minor Orders have never received the Order of Exorcist. Instead we received the Order of Blesser. Rather than being scared by demons and talking about the power to throw them back into hell, our church spoke of the priest sharing God’s blessing. Instead of removing some superstitious evil spirit, we acted to bring God’s goodness into a person’s life. Likewise, when I come to your homes at Epiphany, I don’t shoo away ghosts lurking in closets. I ask God to bless and protect all who live there.
Bp. Hodur also pointed our church away from talk of hell. He taught us about the reality of punishment after death for sinfulness, but our church does not talk about a place of everlasting torment and everlasting demonic tormentors. Five weeks ago we read the parable about the rich man and Lazarus, with a chasm that prevented anyone from heaven to travel to hell and vice-versa. This is a parable, not an actual description. Think about the possibility of God and the saints living in heaven and watching and hearing the agony of those in eternal damnation. Can you imagine living like that? Can you imagine Jesus living like that? What kind of a person could call a place Paradise when screams of pain are heard for eternity? Not the saints and not our God. This is why our church never spoke of eternal hell, and why you will never hear it mentioned by me. If you want to be scared of getting a toothbrush on Halloween that’s fine, but don’t take the costumes for real. All Saints Day is the real supernatural reality and it’s a reality of hope not of fear. Have fun with Halloween for the young and the young-at-heart, but believe in All Hallows Day. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Fr. Randolph Calvo