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


On Purgatory and Guilt

One of the most misunderstood aspects of Catholic theology by Catholics and non-Catholics alike is the concept of Purgatory. Protestants call it folly. Incredibly awesome popular TV shows say it’s where monsters go when they die. . . or maybe it was the Island all along?

I remember when I was a young LCMS Lutheran — attending Lutheran school — the concept of Purgatory was explained as a sort of way for the Catholic Church to guilt trip everybody into paying for stuff, and for feeling really bad about having any sort of fun. “Oh no, you’ll spend an extra 300 years in Purgatory for that!” or “If you give us money, we’ll shave time off of your sentence! Heck, we’ll do it for your dead relatives too!”

And we laughed, rolled our eyes, and said “those silly Catholics. That’s not how it works.”

Now, before I go into the Truth behind Purgatory, I’m going to make a little side note here. I’m not trying to cover up the fact that in Luther’s day, the Church really was selling indulgences. But that was one of the things the reformers helped put in a proper theological context, which I will explain when I write about Alms-Giving in a later post.

So what even is Purgatory? Well, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (1030-1031)

Ok. That’s fairly straightforward. It’s a place of purification. And it’s not Hell. Fair enough.

But see, here’s the thing about Purgatory that people don’t seem to understand. It is not a place where God sticks His naughty children to suffer because He wants to make them suffer. Purgatory exists because human persons need Purgatory to exist.

Yes. You heard me. We go to Purgatory because, deep down, we know we need to.

See, I don’t know about you (cause I don’t know you and you might be a bit more sociopathic than the average bear), but human persons have this nagging thing called guilt when we know we’ve done a stupid. We’ve had it ever since the Fall, when Adam and Eve realized they were naked and were ashamed, thus ending God’s plan of a perpetual human nudist garden. Shame and guilt are the products of sin, because we have consciences that tell us when we’ve sinned.

And you know what? Guilt’s not really a good thing all the time. Yes, we should feel compunction for our wrongs, and this should motivate us to fix them. But after we’ve done our penance on earth, after we’ve apologized and been forgiven, it becomes a sin in itself to hold on to that guilt. And yet, we do. We all do. We sit there, going “whoops, I’m not wearing any pants,” and we are ashamed.

So what happens when we die? Well, we know God loves us and wants us to be with Him. The people who don’t want to be with Him go to Hell, the only place they can be free from Him (see my post on Hell for more on this). Those who want to be in His presence go to Heaven. Fair enough, right?

But really. Do you feel ready to see God right now? He’s all-powerful and all-just. He’s the most important being in the universe. And you’re still not wearing any metaphorical pants. That’s like going to the White House in a ratty old t-shirt, reeking of booze and filth.

Does God mind that you look like crap? Well, yes. But not really because He hates you now and wants you to suffer. He cares about you being squeaky clean because He knows you would be ashamed to be in His presence like that. He wants you to be absolutely happy in Heaven, and that means you have to be able to let go of your guilt, come out of shame, and get all scrubbed up.

That’s what Purgatory is for. It is a place where we go to do penance, so we can ease our consciences and let go of our guilt, so we can live happily in God’s house for eternity.

So how long does Purgatory last? I think Purgatory lasts for as long as we need it to. I imagine that you only stay in Purgatory until you are personally ready to leave, and then you go to Heaven. Like I said, Purgatory isn’t a prison. It’s not a place of punishment. It’s a place of purification. And just as some of us take 5-minute showers and others of us like to sit in the bath until our fingers are all raisiny, it takes different lengths of time for each soul to decide that they are ready to leave.

See? It’s really not that scary. Purgatory’s a gift, not a curse. Do not fear it.

See you on the Destined Path, my friends.

-E. G. Norton