On Halloween

Every single year, the same argument arises among Christians: should we or should we not celebrate Halloween? This year alone, I have read several articles in defense of this festive celebration. And on each of these articles, I have noticed a lot of angry, hurt comments from both sides of the spectrum.

Rather than throw myself into the freshly chummed waters of a comment section, I have instead elected to resurrect this old blog again so I can weigh in.

Almost like a. . . Trenchcoat zombie!

Almost like a. . . Trenchcoat zombie!

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has actually met me that I absolutely love Halloween. It is my favorite holiday. Why wouldn’t I love it? There’s always a ton of candy, I get to dress as eccentrically as I’d like without anyone batting an eye, and it’s a fantastic reminder of some deep spiritual truths that are profoundly important to my journey as a Catholic theologian.

I am not going to waste any time discussing the origins of Halloween here. If you want to read about that, there’s a fantastic post about it at Word on Fire. To me, the origins are not as important as the substance.

But what is the substance of Halloween? It seems to be a celebration of darkness, of mayhem, and of excess. Well, yes. But there is so much more to it than that. And to properly understand the importance of this festival, we have to look at the weekend as a whole. All Hallow’s Eve is more than just an isolated party day. It is the kickoff of a three day feast focused on the immortality of the human soul and the three stages of the Church.

(via Count Down To Zero Time)

(via Count Down To Zero Time)

Halloween may seem like a festival of Hell. Look about you on this day and the days leading up to it, and you will see things that would make Dante faint (not that making Mr. Alighieri pass out from fright is particularly hard, but still). Ghosts and ghouls, demons a plenty, black magic, gore, death. . . all these are common symbols of the day. These symbols of evil, of sin, of darkness surround us on the night of Halloween. We deliberately scare ourselves and wear masks and costumes to disguise ourselves.

Look about you every day, and you will see things that should make your hair stand on end, were you not so used to them. Everywhere there is corruption, chaos, and villainy. Moral relativism, false ‘tolerance’ that is not tolerant, infanticide, terrorism, sexual promiscuity. . . these are the symbols of our daily lives. How often do we pay attention to this darkness, to let it really scare us? How often do we just hide behind our masks and pretend that everything is as it should be when our world needs us to stand and fight?

Halloween is not just about Hell. It is about the Church Militant. It is a reminder of the battle that we are caught up in every single hour of every day, whether we acknowledge it or not. It is the day when darkness seems to win, to overpower the light.

But it is just one night. And we learn the truth with the dawn.

(via Wallpaper Kid)

(via Wallpaper Kid)

All Saint’s Day is more than a day where we pray for all our dead in Heaven. It is the day of victory, a reminder that our God has won, that the war is over, that all we have to do is fight and hold fast. It is the celebration of the Church Triumphant over all the evils of this life, over the powers of Hell, and over our own concupiscence. And this feast makes no sense without Halloween. It drifts without context, because without the drama and the darkness and the suffering, the light is too easy to take for granted. We need to acknowledge the evils of our age so that conquering them is all the sweeter.

But there is one more day to this trifold feast, and one that we need to stop ignoring. All Soul’s Day is forgotten too often in the fervor to move on after Candy Day and Mass Day. And that is a shame, because when we forget this feast, we also forget a large chunk of our Church.

(via Jaques Gude)

(via Jaques Gude)

All Soul’s Day is distinct from All Saint’s Day because it is the day we celebrate the Church Penitent, the “Church-in-the-waiting-room,” our brothers and sisters in Purgatory. Purgatory is very real, very necessary, and very important. (If you want a good explanation of Purgatory, I tackled it here.) And the souls there need our prayers way more than the souls in Heaven do.

This celebration comes at the end of the feast for a reason. It is important for us to know the outcome of the battle before we think about Purgatory so that we can accept the fact that most of us have to work through our issues before we can get to Heaven. When we know that Purgatory means that we are getting into Heaven, then it is easier to bear. And we can remind our departed brothers and sisters that they are getting there, that they should not be afraid to let go, that they are worthy of Heaven. We through our prayers are the cheerleaders that encourage and strengthen these souls. We, in a sense, get to help them get to Heaven.

So why do we neglect this feast? Why do we lump it together with All Saint’s Day so we only have to go to Mass once? Are we so pigheaded a people that we cannot see how much this is needed?

We have gotten used to celebrating All Saint’s Day in a vacuum, and that makes us just as guilty as the secular world who celebrates Halloween in a vacuum. We need all three days because each teaches us something different. And besides, a three day party is so much better than a one or two day party, isn’t it?

Let’s celebrate. Let’s face the darkness. Let’s revel in the light. Let’s pray for all our dead.

And let’s praise God for our glorious traditions that educate us in His ways.

–E.G. Norton

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A Book For The Journey: The Divine Comedy

Anyone who knows me knows I have a special place in my heart for the works of Dante Alighieri.

Anyone who knows me extremely well knows that I used to cry myself to sleep knowing I probably shouldn’t be in love with a 750-year-old man (particularly one with only one heart…).

But there is a reason I love Dante so much: I credit the Commedia with saving my life when I was struggling with depression. It was only natural to have a bit of a thing for my knight in shining woodcut.

Beauty is more than skin-deep, you guys! Come on!
(Via Italian Historical)

What I love the most about Dante is that, even though he makes himself the main character of his own epic, he’s pretty humble about it. It’s clear he doesn’t have a high opinion of himself. He keeps fainting every three chapters or so, and you just know Virgil’s getting sick of dragging his wimpy butt through hell.

In the movie version, Virgil should totally be played by Samuel L. Jackson. (via Collider)

He doesn’t pretend that he’d be a hero or a saint. He’s just a weaker-than-average poet suddenly faced with all the mysteries of the universe, and he knows exactly how he’d react in that situation: namely whimpering in the corner and begging for someone to get him out of there. I’d probably react the same way. Very few people wouldn’t.

Even in heaven, he gets so overwhelmed that — in internet slang — he loses the ability to can. Words don’t always work any more. Even the thing he’s good at, he is terrible at when faced with swarms of angels. And you gotta respect a guy who’s honest about that.

But enough about my favorite Florentine. Let’s talk about the Commedia.

Before you run out and read what is probably one of the greatest books of all time, I have a few cautions. First, make sure you get a good translation. There are tons of English translations. I own four of them. You have to decide how you want to read it. Unfortunately, it is impossible to have both the verse and the meaning of the original. You sort of get to pick one. If a translator follows Dante’s meter and rhyme scheme, some of the meaning gets lost. If they decide to translate it accurately, often the verse is obscured.

My preferred method of reading it is with a blank verse translation (following the natural rhythm of English), along with one of the terza rima translations (Longfellow’s is my favorite) that preserves Dante’s original rhyme scheme. I keep them both open and reference back and forth. It’s complicated, but it is interesting to compare verse techniques.

I hate the prose translations. But to each their own.

My other caution is to remind you that the Commedia is not a theological work. It is a literary work. Though I firmly believe that Dante was inspired when he wrote it, this epic is full of inaccuracies and crazy Medieval science!

While it may inspire you to do some reflecting of your own, it is by no means a guide to the afterlife. I’d say it’s about 1/6 mystical work, 1/6 let-me-fanboy-over-Virgil-and-my-dead-girlfriend, and 2/3 revenge epic (I mean, seriously, Dante, how many of your enemies are you gonna cram into hell? Oh. all of them? Ok, have fun, I guess.)

Still, it’s a great read, and if you’re open to it, it can be a great spiritual aid as well.

Email me if you’ve read the Commedia, and what you thought of it!

-E. G. Norton