I was just reading an article that said October is a time to confront one’s own death, since the natural context is all the dying green plants and leaves falling and blowing all around. I do think about this and am trying to make some plans for the care of my family if I should die. I have some unique challenges given the care of my Mom at 97+ and Katherine’s special needs. A friend was helping me check over our wills, the Advanced Care Directives, and our End of Life Plans. While this may not be an upbeat conversation, families certainly have found it helpful to have wishes of the deceased written down.
I was taken aback at Christmas last year when Carrie gave me an empty album entitled “Now I’m Dead, What?” It has taken me all this time to open it. Fewer families have church funerals these days. The trend is for “do it ourselves” social gatherings and cocktail hour receptions. Simpler, brief graveside prayers are popular. What are your wishes? Do you have a plan? Have you talked it over with your family?
Whether or not the season invites you to contemplate the end of life, it certainly confronts us with unmistakable change – especially this year. Elias, my Jewish Rabbi friend just concluded celebration of the harvest season and the accompanying reconciliation we might experience during Lent and Holy Week. In a few days, All Saints Day (Nov.1-2) and All Souls/All the Faithful Departed invite us to remember the “…blest communion, fellowship divine! [while] we feebly struggle [and] they in glory shine.”
By the way, I hope you take advantage of this great teachable moment to explain to any children (or unaware adults) around you, what Halloween is all about. All Hallows Eve is the night before All Saints Day. The Celtic festival, Samhain, of community fire-lighting, warding off ghosts of returning relatives and distributing live coals to families for Winter fires, protection and heat, was Christianized by Pope Gregory III in the eighth century.
“The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago, mostly in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.” (Internet search)
I was recently in a Halloween costume store in Boston with my grandchildren and from the wide array of ghoulish masks and costumes available, I think Pope Gregory III has lost the battle! We have our jobs cut out for us to retrieve any Christian perspective and meaning of sainthood for our time. Like Christmas and Easter, Halloween is about marketing. So what is the Christian message, the good news about All Saints?
It may make sense to talk about angels, not ghosts. Remembering those who have died and blessed our lives, whose spirits are nonetheless present in mysterious ways, is a healthy prayer exercise. “They lived not only ion ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still, the world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, on in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, (Dunkin Donuts) for the saints of God are just folk like me…. [Do you] mean to be one too?
Trick or treat, Fr. Rick