Last weekend we had our Halloween party . For the first time in several years, I dusted off the various accouterments of Halloween that the kids had enjoyed for so many years: ceramic pumpkins, lighted jack-o-lanterns, candleholders with benign ghosts, cats, witches and goblins, even a Frankenstein nutcracker. As I was placing one particular favorite—a black cat wearing a witch’s hat, climbing on a smiling pumpkin—next to our statue of Our Lady of Hope, I reflected with some amusement that more than a few of my friends—especially the Evangelical ones—would be aghast at the mere idea of decorating for Halloween let alone having the decorations share the stage with religious objects. Then again, some of them get the willies from my statuary too...
For my part, it was an afternoon spent with memories of so many wonderful Halloweens. The time our seven year old son was a Teenaged Mutant Ninja turtle, but found the shell too hot and so wandered the neighborhood in green-died long johns and a turtleneck--trick to treating in his BVDs....the time our high-school aged daughter dressed as Snap (or maybe Crackle or Pop—one of the three)...scouting craft sessions making pumpkins and graveyard desserts with cookie tombstones stuck in whipped cream...the little mouse on one of our tealights who used to be white and is now gray, reminding me that my beloved and departed father-in-law had only a few words in German, among them “Die Maus ist grau!”
We decorated with abandon, and by the end of the day, Mary stood side by side with ghosts and the Infant of Prague oversaw black cats and St. Patrick shook his staff at a teddy-bear witch. And candles and coal oil lamps were everywhere, light wherever one looked. An uber-Catholic house well decorated for Halloween.
Actually, Halloween from its first moments has always been a Catholic holiday, the Vigil of All Saints Day. Our American tradition of ghosts and goblins took a circuitous route to the twenty-first century, but it is firmly grounded in two hallmarks of the Catholic life: a keen awareness of our own mortality and confidence that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We enjoy having a good laugh at death and the devil. As a consequence, we love to take the worst that the world can offer and turn it into something wonderful and good.
Which brings me to another conversation yesterday with a Protestant friend (on the eve of Halloween) about crosses and crucifixes. She volunteered that her father had had an intense reaction to the concept of a crucifix which she did not understand. (The Holy Spirit must be making progress…) I prefer the empty cross because Jesus isn’t on the cross any more, He is risen. But there’s nothing wrong with a crucifix.
There it is, the quintessential Protestant rationalization for empty crosses, though I am delighted she doesn’t share her father’s aversion for the crucifix.
If the resurrection is the rationale, I can see empty tombs as the symbol, but not empty crosses.
The crucifixion the intersection of the greatest evil man can do with the infinite love of God that came to meet evil on its own terms. It was the crucifixion that was the means of our salvation. Paul himself said it: I preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is a good thing to keep that in mind. Hence the crucifixes in Catholic churches and homes and around Catholic necks. And on the rosaries in the cut glass bowl right behind the haunted house on the side table in my living room, too.
Doubt the power of the crucifix? Go watch a Bela Lugosi movie. It’s not an empty cross that turns the vampire away. It’s a crucifix. Halloween references aside, adopting that first-century device of torture was, in the words of Father Barron, an in-your-face taunt to the Roman Empire and to all the evil that ever was or will be: Is this the worst you can do? And in the words of Gamble Rogers, the first Christians essentially said You don’t scare me none.
The crushing, abusive, dictatorial power of the government did not deter them, and it ought not frighten us, either And neither should ghosts, witches, or demons, precisely because of the crucifix. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Our victory has been won for us, and the crucifix is where the critical battle was fought. It’s worth keeping before us as a reminder and a guide.
Tonight is Halloween. Bring on the Goblins; I have a stash of candy to give them, something sweet to answer their scary appearance. And I’ll remember to peer behind that mask and see them, and through them, Jesus, because appearances are deceiving and you never know who’s really knocking at your door.
I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. And by the way---there’s a crucifix by my front door. Vampires beware. You lost before you even began.
Which is why Our Lady of Hope seems to be smiling at the wee black cat I put in front of her a few days ago. Nothing can separate us from her Son and she knows it. And I have it on solid authority that she enjoys a good party.