This Wednesday is Halloween. It has been reported by ABC News as being the “second largest holiday” behind Christmas. This determination is with regard to the amount of money that people spend. While this is either interesting or shocking, it can also be an opportunity for Catholics to recall core beliefs in our faith. Because the celebration of Halloween only has relevance to our society today because of its relationship to two important holy days in our Catholic faith: All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd).
The English term “Halloween” is derived from a contraction of the phrase “All Hallows’ Eve” which is a reference to the evening before the day to reverence all the holy ones (i.e. the Saints). So even the term “Halloween” would not exist without All Saints Day.
All Saints Day is the day in our Catholic faith when we remember and reverence all of the Saints in our Catholic faith: Those who we know are in heaven (the officially canonized, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Paul II, etc), as well as those who are in heaven whom we don’t know (such as some of our relatives and friends who God knows are in heaven). It is a very special time for us on earth to recall that God’s mercy and love is already having an affect and bringing people to the eternal life that Jesus himself promised. It is a day of great joy for the entire Church! That is also why it is a holy day of obligation for Catholics around the world. A holy day of obligation means that all Catholics are required to attend mass on that day (or on the evening before, where available). The Church makes this requirement because it is a day of great importance and celebration for our entire Church family, for we celebrate all of these saints in heaven and are reminded of our great calling to become saints, ourselves. All Souls Day is also a day of great importance, but its focus is a different group of people. All Souls Day is the day that we pray for all of the souls in Purgatory. We believe, in our Catholic faith, that when we pass away from this earth, that we are judged by God and we go to our eternal reward or punishment. For those souls who are on their way to heaven, they pass through Purgatory, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “purgatory is a ‘final purification’ (CCC 1031) which is afforded to ‘all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified’ so that they might ‘achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven’ (CCC 1030).” Essentially, we recognize that even if we are judged to go to heaven, we still have some sense of sin in our hearts that needs to be cleaned (or purged) out of us to enter the absolute perfect love that is heaven. So truly, purgatory is a gift to prepare our souls for the immense perfection that is heaven.
With all that in mind, All Souls Day is the day that we do not simply “remember” our loved ones who have passed away, but rather, we pray for them to assist them through purgatory. Our prayers actually have an effect, and so it is ultimately an act of love to pray for our relatives and friends who have passed away, and All Souls Day is devoted explicitly to that effort (though you can pray for the souls of the deceased on any day and at any time). All Souls Day (November 2nd) is not a holy day of obligation, though it is a good practice to attend mass and pray at a cemetery for all of those who have passed away.
Halloween can be a fun event, but let us not forget the true origins of that day, for it is deeply connected to our Catholic faith that have more spiritual importance for our entire Catholic Church. May God bless you during these upcoming holy days.
P.S. My favorite costume that I have worn is as Captain Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek.
The central Mystery of our Catholic faith is the Holy Trinity. One God, three persons. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. For all time, God has been a community. And so, when God made human beings in His image and likeness, God imbued within each person the necessity of community life. Human beings not only survive by living in community life, but we actually thrive. Think about all the ways that living as a community allows us to flourish: In community, we are able to play games such as football, baseball and, of course the great sport of hockey. In community we are able to share ideas which allow us to accomplish incredible feats like putting a man on the moon. In community we are able to comfort one another in times of sorrow or distress. In community we are able to inspire one another to be better and become great. Human beings have been made for community. The life of a priest, while it is rarely lonely, can cause a priest to become more isolated and separated from his fellow priests. It is easy for priests to lose the important support that we gather from each other in our times together, in our shared priesthood.
Recognizing this importance of community, I realized that upon becoming pastor of Nativity of Mary, this was the first time that I was truly living alone. While I was certainly comfortable, I was still feeling this draw to maintaining community life. As a result, I began looking for a way to live in community. I reached out to Fr. Don DeGrood about living in the rectory (priest residence) in Savage.
Fr. DeGrood was welcoming of the idea, and so I made the decision to move into the rectory in Savage. I am still the pastor of Nativity of Mary parish and I have no obligations to the parish in Savage. It is the place where I rest and find community time with my fellow priests. It is also a great benefit that I am still only a ten minute drive away from our parish, because the rectory is only two blocks off of highway 13.
I am in consultation with the finance council as to what would be the best options for our current rectory, and nothing has yet been decided. We are still maintaining the property and will make an informed decision as to the future of that property.
In just a few weeks, I have discovered the benefits of community life. The three of us priests living there have times of prayer together, we attempt to have one meal together a week and Fr. DeGrood has watched more hockey games and eaten more White Castle in the past five years! Good things are happening.
We all must find community in our lives, because that is who we have been made to be. It is in community where we inspire virtue and we tamper vice. So let us seek out Christ-centered community so that we may flourish as people made in the image and likeness of God.
Thank you for your prayers.
There is a story back in the 1600s about when a group of early settlers had the first meeting with the Native Americans, there was an exchange of gifts made. The settlers gave their goods to the Native Americans and the Native Americans gave a peace pipe to the settlers. The two groups agreed to meet again some time later and both went their separate ways. Some months later, the two groups met again. To show their gratitude, the settlers made sure that they brought along the peace pipe. The Native Americans, noticing the peace pipe, were dismayed and requested that the peace pipe be returned. Certainly confused, the settlers returned the peace pipe, the two groups departed and never met again. What the settlers did not know, was that in the Native American culture, they lived by an understanding that gifts were only given to with the understanding that they would continue to be given. In their words, a gift must be kept in motion. The gift was not to pass “to” you, but rather, all gifts should pass “through” you. And this is very much in union with the Catholic understanding of stewardship.
As we continue our stewardship campaign, we are called to look at our very lives in a different way. We are reminded to look at all that exists with a different vision, the vision of faith. For when God looks at all that he created, he did not give it to us to so that we could simply hold on to the gifts. Rather, he gave us the gift of all creation so that it could be handed on. Look in Genesis: “God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food...” (Gen 1:29). Notice that God gave to the humans the “seed-bearing” plants. While certainly, God gave all creation, the seed-bearing plants are emphasized. By highlighting the seeds, God is pointing out the importance of those seeds being planted, those seed being “handed on” to the future generations, those seed being given to the ground so that so much more can grow! Those seeds are not meant to be held onto, but meant to keep on being given. If Adam and Eve hold on to those seeds, there will be no more growth, no future plants, no future sustenance...and what happens? The end.
When we look at stewardship of all that we have, including our treasure, we must see it with the eyes of God. When we contemplate our treasure, our financial means, we must work to view it as God does. God sees them as a part of the great gift of creation. A gift that was not meant to end with us, but a gift that was meant to pass through us for the good of us as well as others.
May God bless all of you!
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl