All Hallows Eve.  That’s where we get the word “halloween.”  The day after Halloween  is the feast of All Saints when we remember and celebrate all those who are in heaven.  It’s a holy day in the Catholic Church when all Catholics attend Mass and honor the saints who are models of Christian virtue and perseverance.  So how did the eve or vigil of All Saints Day become associated with goblins and ghouls?  The simple answer is that if you believe in God and Holy Scripture, then you also believe in the reality of evil in the world.  The devil and his army of demons contest for our souls as the “principalities and powers” described by St. Paul (Ephesians 6:11).  But today a lot of people don’t believe in the devil anymore.  Evil has become just one more outdated idea like the flat earth.  In America, the Puritans made it illegal to celebrate Halloween, mostly out of their anti-Catholic prejudices.  Anything associated with Catholic belief or practice, like the holy days of worship, was outlawed.  The popular customs we associate with Halloween, like carving vegetables and lighting them inside with candles and celebrating the night before All Saints Day are largely Irish Catholic traditions brought to this country with the immigrants.


With diminishing cultural beliefs in the reality of evil and the suppression of Catholic beliefs and practices, Halloween had all but disappeared in America until 1923 when a novelty company in Framingham, Massachusetts began to market costume kits and instructions on pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating that quickly became popular.  Over the following decades, Halloween became a secular holiday that most families embraced.  Unfortunately the rich, instructive faith history of the holiday has been ignored, forgotten and even rejected outright.  If we relegate goblins and demons to the real of mere superstition or harmless diversion, we empower evil.  Satan’s influence in the world grows greater whenever he can convince someone that he doesn’t exist.  We are still engaged in the battle against him, but instead of calling him by name, we attribute evil to social causes like a bad childhood or poor interpersonal skills.  And so we don’t confront evil with the truth of Christ crucified anymore.  This truth is at the heart of what we celebrate on All Saints Day.


My Catholic faith teaches that evil is rejecting God.  It is a real force that can have very real and eternal consequences for those who choose to turn away from the Lord.  Just as heaven is a real place, hell is also real.  Both are everlasting.  We choose hell over heaven when we reject God’s love for us.  Saints are people whose hearts are filled with God’s love and grace and who consistently chose God’s truth over the lies of the evil one.  They lived in the joy of the Lord, not in the anxiety and fearfulness which Satan wants for all of us.  While we believe in the reality of demons and fallen angels, we don’t fear them because we live in the power of the risen Christ.  Some Christian parents are hesitant to allow their children to dress as witches or devils when they trick-or-treat.  Certainly this is a decision each family must make for themselves.  But Halloween is a great time for parents to answer their children’s questions about goblins and devils and to reassure them that God’s love is more powerful than anything “spooky.”  Jesus is our Light and when we follow Him, the darkness of the world is dispelled.  God hears their prayers and never lets any of His children walk without His loving protection.


So set out your jack-o-lanterns and thank the Irish Catholic immigrants whose traditions we imitate.  Enjoy the evening with your children and be generous with all the little tricksters who come to your door.  Most of all, remember that the next day’s  light brings with it a holy day of prayer and thanksgiving in remembrance of the servants of God who have shown us the way to heaven.  These saints are our brothers and sisters in faith and their lives are examples to us of how to love and serve God with humility and joy.  These darkening autumn days hold within them the bright light of All Saints Day and the greater, uncreated light of Christ, our Savior.


St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do Thou,

O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God,

Thrust into hell Satan and all the spirits

Who prowl the world seeking the ruin of souls.


                —-Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

Through a Glass, Darkly

It’s a beautiful fall day.  The sky is a deep azure blue without even the trace of a cloud.  There’s a soft breeze gently shaking the reddish-gold maple leaves on the tree in the backyard.  I can smell the tang of wood smoke from the fireplace a few houses up the street.  Somewhere a dog is barking.  I’m thinking of the dinner that I’ll share tonight with a dear sweet friend.  It’s one of those moments in life when you smile, take a deep breath, and whisper a prayer of thanks to God for all His many blessings.  Having your health and your family, good friends and the beauty of creation all around us IS abundant grace and goodness.  As the sign says, life is good.


Yet this life is just a pale imitation of the joys of our life to come in heaven.  C. S. Lewis describes life here on earth as life in the “shadowlands” as if all the beauty and wonder of creation is a mere hint of what life in heaven will be like.  He doesn’t mean that life on earth is somehow less real or any less amazing or miraculous or heart-stoppingly beautiful.  It IS a wonder, in all its depth and complexity.  From the tiniest butterfly to the full majesty of a Beethoven symphony–we are surrounded by and immersed in indescribable beauty.  But heaven is and will be, immeasurably more beautiful.  How do we know this?  Because heaven is where all the beauty in this world comes from.  God is the source of everything that’s good and true and beautiful.  From Him comes every good thing we know here:  a mother’s loving touch, a bluebird’s song, the soft velvet on a Christmas stocking, fresh apple pie, the love between a husband and a wife.  Everything we hold dear and cherish so deeply and reverently is just a hint of the beauty we’ll know in His presence.


There we’ll know the One Who dreamed of a sunset and made it real; Who breathed upon the waters and made the crashing waves.  We’ll be face-to-face with the source of all Beauty.  We’ll still love everything and everyone that we’ve loved in life, but in a way that will make our five earthly senses seem fuzzy and clouded.  St. Paul says this very thing when he describes the difference between our earthly perceptions and our heavenly ones:  “Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then, face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12).  We’ll see with new eyes, hear with new ears and in every way experience life, real life, as we’ve never known it before.  When we speak of heaven, we use the language of faith because we don’t yet have the experience of it, though we hope to.  Love leads us to imagine what it will be like.  Love calls us on an autumn afternoon to close our eyes and thank Him for all this beauty, here and now and all around us.  If this perfect October moment, clothed in splendor, is just a shadowland of our true home in heaven–then how wonderful heaven will be.  And how dearly we must treasure this life and these days we’re given to walk with Him and know Him —and follow Him as He leads us home.

“Has this world been so kind to you that you shall leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

–C. S. Lewis

The Power of Words

What sort of books do you read?  Do you ever think about how they affect your thoughts and your actions?  Listen to the stories of four people whose lives were forever changed by what they read.  The first one is a soldier, a real “man’s man” who came from a wealthy family with lots of political contacts.  Their influence could have kept him behind the front lines, but he loved being in the heat of battle and so he fought.  He was seriously wounded in one of those fights and was forced to spend many months recovering from his injuries.  Bored and restless as the weeks went by, he asked for something to read to help pass the time.  He was given a copy of “The Life of Christ” by Ludolph of Saxony, a German priest.  In reading it, he found himself transformed and lead to read the Gospels with a new and deepened understanding.  When he was back on his feet, he didn’t return to the life of a soldier, but instead devoted himself to a life of prayer and service.  Later, he was called to religious life and he founded the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits.  St. Ignatius of Loyola heard Christ calling to him through reading His life story.


As a child, she loved reading stories about missionaries who spread the good news of Christ in far-off lands.  She went on to become a nun and a schoolteacher, teaching the daughters of wealthy families in exotic India.  One day, while taking a train trip she experienced God’s call to serve the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta.  She founded a new order of sisters called the Missionaries of Charity and today they work in slums and inner city neighborhoods around the world.  Her selfless love of the poor earned her the Nobel Peace Prize.  We know her as St. Teresa of Calcutta.


His father was a city bureaucrat who never went to church.  As he grew up, his mom never stopped praying for him, but he liked drinking and staying out late with his friends.  Still, he was a good student and he got a job teaching at a prestigious private school.  He lived with a woman for many years and they had a son together.  After reading the life story of St. Anthony of the Desert, he had a conversion experience and was called to the priesthood.  He later became a bishop and Doctor of the Church.  St. Augustine’s best-known work is his life story, his “Confessions.”


She was born into a Jewish family but had become an avowed atheist in her teenaged years.  On a vacation one summer, she read the biography of St. Teresa of Avila and was called by Christ to a life of faith.  A few years later she became a Carmelite nun, like St. Teresa.  The Nazis came to power in her native Germany and in order to protect her from them, her order sent her to a convent in the Netherlands.  When the Nazis invaded, she was taken to the death camp at Auschwitz where she was murdered in the gas chambers for being born a Jew. Edith Stein, who had become Sister Teresa Benedicta was martyred in 1942 and made a Saint of the Church in 1998.


Words have power.  What we read can affect us in deep and powerful ways, even if we might not be aware of it at the time.  Feed your mind with words that nourish and sanctify you.  But be careful what you read—you might just become a saint.

“When we pray we speak to God; but when we read, God speaks to us.” –St. Jerome 

Body, Mind, & Spirit

There’s the story about the toddler who received a heart transplant from another little boy. The donor had been born with a club foot. A few months after the surgery the little boy with the new heart started to drag his foot behind him, like he had been born with a club foot, too. Another story involved a young man who wanted to be a songwriter. Just before he died he had written a new song and recorded it on tape. It told the story of a man losing his heart to a woman named “Andi.” When he was killed in a car crash, his heart was given to a woman named Andrea. She began to listen to his taped song and was able to sing along, although of course she’d never heard it before. Coincidences? Maybe. Even, probably. But how about the young girl who received the heart of a murder victim. As she was recovering from the surgery she began having nightmares about how her donor had been killed. She saw the murderer and what he’d been wearing. She dreamed of the attack itself and where the murder weapon had been hidden. When she told the police all she had seen in her dreams, they were able to use the information to make an arrest in the case.

Scientists call this “cellular memory.” It’s the idea that the cells of our body can contain memories of what has happened to us in our lives. Of course we know that our brain cells are where memories are stored. We see memory being lost when someone has a stroke or a brain trauma or suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. But cellular memory theorists believe that other parts of our bodies can also hold memories. Most of the stories of cellular memories involve the heart. As a non-scientist, this isn’t a surprise to me. When I consider who I am and what I’ve experienced, it’s always my heart that seems the most “real.”

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” But I don’t believe that’s the whole story. I believe we’re more than just the electrical grid of our nervous systems. I believe that when God created us in His image, He made us more than brains and bodies. He made our hearts and souls to live forever. So while most scientists don’t take cellular memory very seriously, I do. There’s a quote that sometimes attributed (incorrectly) to C.S. Lewis: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” But this misses the mark, too. Our souls and bodies, our minds and our hearts, are inextricably bound together in this life. And God has revealed His plans for our bodies, as well.

At the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9) He gives us a glimpse of heaven. On that mountain, we see the glory of the Son revealed to Peter, James and John. He is bathed in the light of heaven and is joined by Moses and Elijah. They are, by God’s grace, enjoying life in heaven even before the Resurrection. In this peek into our next life, we see how intimately our bodies and souls are bound together. Moses and Elijah are recognizable as the men they were in life. Like the risen Jesus, they are alive and radiant and, well, themselves. The bodies they gained in their mother’s wombs are most fully realized in heaven. Like the Blessed Virgin, our heavenly bodies will be glorified and perfected in ways we can’t even imagine. At the end of time, when the bodies of believers are resurrected from the grace, we’ll experience that glory for ourselves.

So the idea of cellular memory seems very possible to me, even likely. God loves the human body so much that He chose to be incarnated. If God loves the cells of our bodies so completely and without reservation, we must as well. We’re called to treat our bodies with respect and dignity and to protect life from its beginning to its natural end. We are a miracle of creation, a reflection of the One Who made us as an act of pure and radiant love. We are more than a collection of cells—we are His children. We belong to Him, body and soul, heart and mind.

Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him…”
—-Ephesians 3:17