Friday, October 16, 2015

Taking Back Halloween

Bringing Back Honor to the Saints
By Juan Rodriguez

How many of us can say that we know the history of Halloween?  

Not many. What I’m about to write may either shock you, anger you, or make you say, “I knew that”.

“Is Halloween a Holy Day?”  Yes ladies and gentlemen! Halloween is a Holy Day for Catholics.  This is a day where we honor all the Saints, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Virgins, and even the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament.  Halloween is the Vigil for All Saints Day, and during these two days, Catholics learn all about the saints and how we can imitate them in our lives.

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What makes Halloween so special?  

Halloween has a long history in the Catholic Church, but today, its name is associated with evil things, or something that has nothing to do with OUR religious understanding. Simply put, Halloween comes from two words: “Hallow” which means “Holy”, and “e’en” which means “evening” or “night”.  In the literal sense, the word means “All Saints Eve”, or we call it today, “All Saints Day”. It amazes me that some would think “Halloween” is a day for Ghouls, Ghost, and scaring people – as though the word “Hallow” means something evil or diabolical.

When I was growing up, one of my first impression of Halloween added to that silly feeling of it being a scary day. Halloween was not only only wearing a cool
costume and going “trick or treating”, but seeing a pool of blood on the floor of a housing complex. I still recall my older brother saying to me, “Ooooh, somebody may have been stabbed, or killed.” As a young teen, Halloween was a fearful day where we had to get home before the gangs came out to hit people with eggs, shaving cream, or try to pull extreme acts of violence by using a sock filled with batteries to hit people. I still recall the day, when school was dismissed, I remember the crowds of teens who frantically ran, because some teens from the local High Schools, threw eggs or instigated fights with fellow students. Who could forget the Halloween Parties – there was so many of them! Not that it was bad to celebrate, but later I wondered to myself about the great disconnection between the feast and the meaning of Halloween.

Is Halloween about “Fear” and “Fun”? Yes it is! But it’s not the kind of fear and fun - the day gave us a false impression of what it meant to a follower of Christ. Let me remind you of the prayer of the Our Father, where we say to God, "Hallow be thy Name". We’re saying to God “Holy is your Name”. This is a Holy Fear, not a terror that forces us to run from Him, rather the feast invites us to enter into His presence. Think about it - when you pray the “Our Father”, is God’s Name “Evil”? NO WAY! Our Jewish brothers and sisters, the Apostles, the Church Fathers, and Saints have taught us to honor the Name of God. (Psalm 29:2; Luke 1:49) God Himself tells Moses to speak to the people of Israel, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)

Here is where young Catholic Christians can practice the “Gift of Fearing the Lord”. This gift was given to us when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and it’s strengthened by our continuous experience of the Sacraments of Penance and Communion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that this is given to us by the Holy Spirit – to help us live a moral life (CCC 1830-1831). If it is not exercised properly, or practiced by Catholic Christians, young people will forget to Honor His Holy Name.

My question to you – Have we been tricked by the Devil on a play of “words”? Have we've "played" by the distortion and meaning of the word? I think as Catholics, we have fell into the “lies” and been lead to tarnish the meaning of the word “Hallow”. Like gold loses its shine, the word “Hallow” has lost its sacred value. But gold can get its shine back, so can "Halloween. The distortion of Halloween has affected our way of living the Sacraments, our way of prayer, our understanding of vocations, and so much more. We as youth leaders and Catechists are called to inform and live the Christian Faith. Let’s start today!

On November 1st, we as Catholic Christians unite for a solemn Mass in honor of all the saints. It is a Holy Day of Obligation in the United States. A “Solemn” or “Solemnity” Mass, which is celebrated with great importance - there are beautiful decorations, good music, and the priests use beautiful sacred vestments to celebrate this Mass. It should be encouraged that the Community come ready “To Party”, because what’s a Feast Day without fun. On this day, all the saints that are known and unknown are remembered, helping us as Catholic youth and young adults to live a more holy life in Jesus Christ. Now that’s worth having a “party”!

When was the last time you went to the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or the Feast of Our Lady of the Cloud? Our people know how to party. They first honor God with Mass, and afterwards they celebrate with food, dancing, talks, fellowship, and so much more. Yet our Catholic Feasts Days, even our Holy Days of Obligation, are given little importance by the community. Where is our Spirituality? Where is our Tradition?

In the past, Christians celebrated the memory of the saints and martyrs in their parishes, and even in their diocese.  It was recommended by the saints themselves to combine the feast days for the saints and martyrs due to the increase in number of Holy people. One saint in particular was Saint Basil of Caesarea, who in the year 397 A.D. wrote a letter urging the Bishops of Pontus to commemorate all the saints and martyrs for one day, and that way all Christians could celebrate this special feast day as ONE BODY.

How did Halloween develop? 

Historians have found that this feast day was celebrated by Celts that lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Britain. Believe it or not, November 1st was considered “New Years Day” amongst the Celts, and the start of winter.  On October 31st, the Celts would celebrate the feast of Samhain, who was believed to be the “Lord of the Dead”.  The Celts celebrated this feast by creating great bonfires, and wearing masks to chase away the bad spirits. The Celts believed that the souls of the dead would follow them on this day.  Keep this in mind - the Celts had a profound respect for their dead; no different than the Jewish and Christian people, who believed in honoring, and praying for the Dead. (Tobit 1:16-18; 1 Samuel 31:11-12; 2 Samuel 1:17-18; 2 Maccabees 12:38-46; Job 1:1-5)

Later, the Romans conquered the lands of the Celts introducing to them Roman traditions and religion. The Romans introduced the religious practices of honoring Pomona, the goddess of the harvest. As Rome continued to extend itself to the ends of their world, Christianity entered these lands by way of the Christian Missionaries who carried the Gospel of Jesus. One of the most famous of these Christian Missionaries was St. Patrick. As Christianity spread throughout the land, the feast of Samhain and Pomona started to slowly fade as Catholic bishops, priests, and monks started evangelizing the people. These Missionaries used the practical traditions of the people, and transformed the beliefs and practices of the Celts by way of enculturation. This made it possible for all to honor the dead on this Holy Day.

The Church named this feast day “Halloween”, encouraging devotion to God who is Holy, and to honoring the lives of the Saints. In 835 A.D. – Pope Gregory IV saw this as an opportunity to Christianize Rome again, hence moving the feast day from May 13th to November 1st.  This would slowly end the pagan practices focused on Samhain and Pomona, giving a Christian significance to this cultural celebration.  By doing this, Pope Gregory would unify the entire Church in celebrating the memory of all the Saints. 

That’s history! Confusion comes when we are not interested in studying about the religious and cultural history of both Celts and Christians of that time. One example: When some Catholics believe and say that Celts believed in demons, and practiced human sacrifice. But the words “devil”, “demon”, or the idea of such a spirit was not part of the Celtic culture or belief system. These words came with Christian teachings and not from pagan beliefs. Second example: Some believeD that the priests of the Celts called “Druids” practiced human sacrifice. This was not true; there is very little evidence or no evidence of human sacrifice in Celtic rituals. Druids focused their religious practices on nature and the seasons.

I like to remind my child that the Feast of Halloween is not about ghouls, ghosts, vampire, or human sacrifices – it’s about remembering important people who were in our lives, and those who lived for Christ

Halloween connects the story of the Saints to us

 What does the word “Saint” mean?

It comes from the Latin word, “sanctus”. It means “Holy” or “Sacred” – literally it means to be set apart. A
saint is a person called to holiness – called to live for God. We are called to be holy, to be the original supernatural heroes of our world. Our light should burn brighter than any comic book, or TV super hero; the reason being, we have Jesus – Yahweh who saves us. The Feast of Halloween can help us understand the meaning and vocation to Sainthood.

To be a saint is to imitate Jesus Christ, the one who came in the flesh to be one of us. We read their writings at the Mass, telling us about their experiences with God, and their encounter with Christ. By the Priest’s teaching, and celebration of the Mass, and by the laity entering into service within the Mass, we can learn the importance of fellowship that can always lead to holiness. Christ should be the example for us. It’s not that he “was” or “should”, but that He is my One and only example to be holy. He shows me how to be a true child of God our Father. As followers of Jesus, our desire, like the Saints, is to know Him, love Him, ado
re Him, and surrender our life to Him. In following Jesus, we will all become saints. This is what Halloween teaches us.

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