As a high school religion teacher, I spent a lot of time correcting misunderstandings of the Catholic faith within the hearts and minds of my students. These misunderstandings were the results of so many things, but often they had something to do with the actions and/or words of other practicing Catholics. Well-meaning though these individuals usually are, condemning certain secular trends and practices has, in my experience, only solidified the idea that the Church is “out of touch” within the minds of so many people.
The fact that some people hate Catholics isn’t a huge shocker… Christ himself was hated by the Pharisees for his condemnation of their corrupt ways, and as he said himself, “no servant is greater than his master” (John 13:16). People are going to dislike us… especially when we preach unpopular truths. While there are absolutely times that things need to be condemned (like clairvoyance and Ouija boards), there are times when people speak out against things that aren’t actually a threat to the souls of individuals. This seems to be causing a problem, and leaving more than a bad taste in the mouths of so many people. While this may seem like a minor minor issue… I’ve seen smaller “straws” break a camel’s back.
As Catholics, there are times in our lives when we absolutely have to take a stand and condemn things. Since this makes an impact on the world around us, we really should stick to the recommendations of the Magisterium when it comes to the issues worth defending. I have spent a good amount of class time ironing out the difference between someone’s opinion and the way their conscience speaks to them, verses the actual teaching and recommendations of the Church. In all honesty, I think the criticism of some harmless, secular practices is actually doing creating more hostility rather than inspiring virtue.
For example, if tattoos were implicitly sinful, then the Church would come right out and say that. If it’s wrong to let your children believe in Santa Claus, the Church would tell us to leave the tradition be. If celebrating Halloween was dangerous to the soul of your child, the Vatican would have to make that known.
As the Apostles of modern-times, Church leaders carry an incredible responsibility to preserve and protect the teachings of Christ in their entirety. They are charged with the task of teaching us these ways so that our souls will make it to heaven. The rebuke of anything dangerous or sinful is a necessary aspect of the job. When it comes time for the final judgment, the Apostles of every age will have to answer for the ways in which they led their flock. I actually had a professor who was explaining the Bishops’ culpability to us when he said, “the Bishop will burn in hell long before you will.” You can probably imagine the shocked looks on all of our faces when we heard that truth… but it is the truth. Think about what Jesus told us: “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt 18:6) If it’s something that is truly dangerous for our souls, the Bishops absolutely HAVE to speak up and make that known.
The weight of the Bishops’ vocation is heavy (pray for them often), but so is their access to grace and the Holy Spirit. They have been ordained twice— once as a priest and once as a Bishop. There’s a lot of grace that comes with those sacraments. Halloween is not something they fear or denounce… so why do we?
The supernatural aspects of Halloween (like ghosts & demons) have their roots in Catholic teaching. It’s actually kind of cool that this feast is celebrated in the midst of autumn… when the hours of darkness increase and the weather is beginning to turn cold. Throughout Scripture, Christ is referred to as the “Light of the World” (John 8:12), “the Dayspring from on High” (Luke 1:78), and “the Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). In fact, it is a belief of the Church that at this time of the year, the veil separating us from purgatory, heaven, and hell becomes thinner, and thus ghosts and demons can be more readily seen. The chill and darkness of the season seem to help us sense this reality; they also help to remind us of what our life would be like without, “The Son.”
Chris and I have “a measuring stick” that we use when it comes to making decisions about what events we’ll attend, what shows we’ll watch, or what trends we’ll participate in. We always ask ourselves, “Is it good? Is it true? Is it beautiful?” Since anything good, true and beautiful points to God, these three categories have become a pretty standard rule of thumb in our house… and celebrating Halloween hits all three marks.
You see, it’s true that ghosts and demons exist. They do roam the world. They can communicate with us. They can wreck havoc (if we let them). It’s important for our children to know this so that they can learn how to avoid engaging with them and also be equipped to defend themselves. The weather and the decreased amount of light in our days is a good parallel to what can happen to our souls apart from God’s grace. Which is really spooky.
It’s good for us to not only be aware of this reality, but to also be reminded that we have dominion over these evils spirits. Scripture makes this very clear (see Luke 10:19, Mark 7:15, 21-23, and James 4:7, just to name a few…). Demons have no power over us unless we open ourselves up to communicating with them. Thus, there really is nothing for us to fear about celebrating this cultural holiday. It’s good to utilize this holiday to teach our youngsters about the effects of evil, and give them “tools” and “weapons” (exorcism prayers, sacramentals, the rosary, etc. ) to help them learn to combat spiritual warfare. How cool that they can then go out in the darkness with the knowledge that they have nothing to fear! Isn’t that what having faith is all about? Isn’t it cool that they get sweets while they are out and about amidst the chill and the darkness? Isn’t that a correlation to what our spiritual lives are sometimes like?
It’s beautiful that the very next day, we get to celebrate All Saints Day, those souls who triumphed over darkness and evil and have made it to their eternal reward. Right away the children learn that hell has no power over us as long as we stay close to Christ. Pope Gregory III knew what he was doing when he moved the feast of All Saints from May 13, to November 1; he wanted the faithful to make this connection.
Though darkness may come, it cannot (it will not) overpower the Light. This lesson can even be carried forward through the coming months… when the Light of the World comes at Christmas (and since Winter Solstice has passed, the amount of light and warmth begins to increase). It’s really a great way to help our kids “sense” certain aspects of Truth.
There really is no reason to be uneasy about Halloween. Swap your focus; make it all about God and his grace.
In Christ, we have all the power.