Growing up we never celebrated Halloween.
As a child my family lived out in the country on 80 acres of land and no one ever came trick-or-treating. My parents did not like Halloween, so we never celebrated it, nor did we do the whole costume thing. If we had, we probably would have dressed as various saints, or figures from the bible. Nothing wrong with that I suppose. Another difficulty was my parents did not allow us to eat sugar, so trick-or-treating would have made no sense whatsoever. This probably explains the insatiable sweet tooth that I have. Anyway, you probably guessed my family was not really the trickster type either, so not a whole lot of shenanigans ever happened on Halloween.
It always seemed really odd to me what Halloween has become, especially since the very origin of the word Halloween comes from “All Hallows Eve.” The Word hallow is a word from middle English that means “to make holy.” The word hallows means “saints,” or “the holy ones.” So All Hallows Eve is part of the celebration of All Saints Day, which is celebrated Nov. 1. Of course there is an ancient pagan history to this day as well and they happen to fall at the same time. The pagan celebration comes from an ancient Celtic harvest ritual called Samhain. The change of the seasons was thought to be a time where the boundary between this world and the next world was very thin, which explains the fascination of ghosts and the like. The Celtic people during their harvest celebrations would dress up in costumes to disguise themselves from ghosts and spirits that were called upon during these rituals. The Christian Feast of All Saints changed these practices. The harvest celebrations became more light-hearted with games and with people dressing up in costumes of the saints. Trick-or-treating came from the practice where people would go door to door singing songs or reciting verses in saint costumes in exchange for a soul cakes. Soul cakes came from another Christian feast day called All Souls Day. On this feast day, which took place Nov. 2, children and the poor would go door to door begging for these soul cakes. This was a way of commemorating the dead and a reminder to pray for the souls of the dead. Somehow the three different celebrations all got melded into one celebration of Halloween in our modern culture.
I obviously do not mind celebrating the saints, or eating sweets for that matter. I do not even mind dressing up in a costume. I have to dress up every day for the celebration of mass, so I’m pretty used to it. I do much prefer celebrating holy people rather than focusing on ghosts, devils, witches and everything gross and evil. And I wish we could move back to celebrating the saints because they really do encourage us in our lives as Christians, giving us good examples, and praying for us so that we might strive for similar holiness.
In this weekends scripture passages we hear from the book of Revelation in which John gives us a vision of heaven with the great multitude of saints. He says, “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands’” (Rev. 7:9). Here we get a glimpse of what all those souls who are already in heaven look like. In 1 John we hear about our calling to be holy ones because we have been made children of God. We read in chapter 3: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Here we realize that we too are called to that life in heaven with God. In the Gospel Jesus gives us the beatitudes. He says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Here Jesus tells us how we can become blessed or happy. He shares with us the process of fulfilling our call to share in the life of the holy ones in heaven.
This process may seem a little cryptic in the beatitudes. When Jesus says “blessed are the poor in spirit”, he means blessed are those who are humble and who are detached from self and from this world. When He speaks of “those who mourn,” he is referring to those who have sorrow for their sinfulness, which leads to repentance. The “meek” are those who do not resort to angry pride and retaliation even when treated unjustly. Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” are those who long for God’s kingdom to come and to be fully established in their lives. Those who are “merciful” are those who, having begun to receive God’s kingdom in their hearts, begin to take upon them his own heart, which is a heart that longs to respond to the misery of humanity. The “clean of heart” are those who have allowed the kingdom of God to take such deep root in their lives that they no longer desire anything accept God. Those who live for God, with God in their hearts, begin to experience the fruit of God’s peace, and thus become those who spread his peace to others. The next two beatitudes speak of the ultimate witness given by those who belong to God, those that are willing to even undergo persecution, insult and even death for the sake of God. The beatitudes are the way of life that Jesus gave His disciples to live. This is the life of the blessed, who will share in the divine life of God in heaven. Maybe this Halloween amidst all the fun and candy, we could remember the saints and ask them to pray for us, so that we can continue to grow in the life that God calls us to live.