November 1, 2021 at St. Peter and St. William Parishes in Naples, FL
Revelations 7, 2-4, 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12
Halloween has nearly eclipsed All Saints Day. The secular world seems to think that Halloween is what it’s all about. Rather than being the night to prepare for a celebration, it has become the celebration. Instead of being about life, it’s turned into a spooky time with goblins and skeletons. But we are in this church because we know the difference. We know that Christ conquered the powers of darkness and those who really believe can use Halloween to mock fear and death with laughter and fun. Confidence in Christ makes Halloween a light-hearted time.
Children are the chief celebrants of Halloween, and for some of us there is an inner child that can still have fun. The whole business of dressing up with scary masks and going around to spooky places with spider webs, ghosts, and skeletons is a delightful joke through which we can discover that this world is really comedy act in which terrible things get defeated. It’s a great therapy for fear. Those of us past childhood would do well to imitate the willingness of children to venture forth into the unknown, take risks, and return home not only safe but triumphant.
Children seem to know that if you’re afraid of something, the best thing to do is to dress yourself and your friends — maybe even your little brother — as the thing you’re afraid of, so that you can see it in familiar flesh and confront it and deal with it and prove to yourself that it can’t really hurt you. They know that pretending that something isn’t real won’t work if it is real. There are monsters under the bed. So, the Halloween wisdom of children comes down to this: There are monsters under the bed, but we can face our fears, and by grace and struggle be set free from them.
This feast of All Saints’, with music, prayers, beautiful vestments, and everything else is the sunny side of Halloween. Today is joy. Last night was comedy. The saints we honor this day, a vast, innumerable crowd, are graduates of the school of grace and struggle in which trick-or-treaters have just enrolled. The saints are those wise enough to face their fears and accept the help of God as naturally as a small child walking in the dark accepts a parent’s hand.
The saints are those who accept the adventure of a risk, and one that’s sane and healthy too, even if their contemporaries can’t figure them out. These saints know the great therapy for fear. They take God seriously, at his word, while everything else, everyone else, including themselves, they regard not seriously, but lightly. Saints are people who aren’t afraid to live with both the gruesome and the glorious. They are not embarrassed to struggle with the great division between good and evil, life and death, heaven and hell. They are called forth into the unknown as into a dark night, they venture forth, enter spooky places, and return home not only safe but triumphant.
Did you know that Ignatius Loyola told his seminarians to laugh and grow stronger. Saint Philip Neri performed ridiculous dances in the presence of cardinals and wore his clothes inside out. Teresa of Avila taught her Nuns to dance on holy days and gave them castanets.
At Halloween children recognize that beyond the very real struggle, there is a world of delight free from fear’s control. That world is where the saints are found, both saints in heaven and saints on earth. Maybe you have known some. Maybe you know some now. Maybe you are one of these saints dwelling, part of the time at least, in a world of delight. Today is the feast of All Saints. We remember those who have gone before, and pray that we may follow after. Trick-or-treaters venturing forth on Halloween night provide us with a map for the journey, one drawn in the bright colors of childhood trust, courage, and fun. The saints massed in their glorious ranks are a promise of our happy return home, with hearts glad and eyes open to the wonder of God.