People have always had a need for annual moments in a year that are highly ritualised around social gatherings with food and drink. Halloween has relatively recently become one such significant day on every town calendar.
The marking of Halloween (literally “All Saints Eve”), became significant for Christians who were preparing to celebrate the feast of All Saints the following day. (more on the feast tomorrow)
Few of those for whom Halloween is significant will give the Communion of Saints a thought. In the same way the Christian celebrations of Easter and Ash Wednesday, Christmas and Advent, have been over-shadowed by secular rituals of bunnies and eggs, Mardi Gras, Carnival, and presents and shopping. Those who do not give Jesus a thought still have a deep need for rituals of social gathering and our Christian feasts have provided a good opportunity.
There is little to be gained by Christians who set out to oppose the secularization of our major Christian feasts. Such zealous efforts will simply reinforce the “Christians are killjoys” stereotype.
And let’s be honest too: Christians have worked hard for the “killjoy” reputation. Too often our proclamation of the good news has had little to do with faith in Jesus Christ, and everything to do with rules and regulations. Sure, our intentions may have been good, but we often emphasised the points and missed the person, Jesus, who is the one who gives life.
I am often haunted by William Blake’s poem, “The Garden of Love”:
…And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.
I am not dismissing the importance of sound doctrine. It is our robust Catholic doctrine that reminds us that a life of masking our true identity and scaring strangers can never bring us the happiness we seek.
Christians achieve little by setting themselves up in violent opposition to those who see things differently. It is true that Christians do see everything and everyone in a different way. But our defensiveness does us no favours. The example of Jesus in the witness of Pope Francis (as in Pope Benedict before him) as he seeks to dialogue with anyone who is open to honest, respectful and searching conversations.
The essential starting point for effective evangelization is loving and respectful dialogue in every encounter, even when it happens in an inconvenient evening moment on the doorstep with half a dozen strangely dressed young neighbours.
At this time last year I was living in the more rural town of Hawarden and there were no Halloween visitors. It might be a bit different here in Amberley. I will certainly greet any visitors pleasantly, and might even send them away with a copy of our Holy Door of Mercy retreat brochure – the two-week parish retreat begins tomorrow with the feast of All Saints.