The Solemnity of All Saints (Vigil Mass)

Today’s readings

Since we’re gathered here on Halloween, All Hallows Eve, I thought I might get your attention by doing a little homily I like to call “Would Jesus Go Trick-or-Treating?” It’s an important topic, because I think a lot of parents wrestle with the message of Halloween and whether or not they should support their children joining in the festivity.

And I think it’s an important thing to wrestle with. On one hand, we don’t want to make a joke out of evil, because evil is real and it’s no joke. But on the other hand, we don’t want to call attention to evil by making a big thing out of it. Exorcists tell us that those are the two common mistakes that we can make about evil: First, we might say think there is no such thing as the devil. Satan would be happy for us to do that, because then we’re not on guard against him. He is real, he’s out there, and we do have to be on our guard. The second mistake we might make is that we look for evil everywhere, and that just shuts us down and keeps us from living the Gospel. Neither of these is a good thing, and both of them play into Satan’s plans for us.

So let’s talk about Halloween. Its origins are a bit murky, and many people think that what happened is that we sort of baptized a pagan festival. Yes and no: there is a traditional pagan festival on October 31st, but apparently there is a traditional pagan festival on the last day of every month, so really that’s nothing particularly special. More likely, Halloween was a celebration of the Eve of All Saints – hence the name, Halloween, All Hallows Eve. All Saints Day originated in the year 609, when it was celebrated in May. But in the ninth century, it was moved to the first of November, which is when the Germanic church celebrated it, and it’s been celebrated then ever since.

The origins of trick-or-treating may have been in Ireland where an ancient Gaelic festival celebrated the harvest and marked the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die. Because of the fear of death that came with winter, these celebrations seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from life-taking spirits.

So the origins and intent of Halloween are more or less benign, and mostly intended to honor the saints. But in our country, over time, a more sinister tone was added to the celebration. Think of some of the more horrific costumes, extremely elaborate and grotesque “haunted houses,” and parties where more evil customs were brought to the celebration. Add that to some of the more elaborate horror movies that get released this time of year, and you can see how it would be easy to brand Halloween as an evil holiday.

Fundamentalist Christians especially see the evil, and thus throw out the entire celebration. But we are not fundamentalist Christians. So we remember that God is good, and that he is always in control, and we do not give the demonic or the evil any power it doesn’t already have. In fact, a lot of people think that there is more demonic activity at this time of year than normal, but exorcists tell us that is not true. It’s just that people tend to open more doors by their worrying and by doing some things they shouldn’t do to celebrate the holiday.

So now let’s remember what this holiday is really about. Today we celebrate the feast of all the Saints – those who have been officially canonized over the ages, and those that perhaps we don’t know of, but who God certainly knows. This is the Church Triumphant, those who have conquered evil and have mastered holiness. They have accomplished what they were created for, to take up their rightful place in the Kingdom of Heaven, that place that God has prepared for each one of us. Today we celebrate their triumph, and hope for our own triumph, for we too wish to live forever with our God. We celebrate the example the saints have given us and we depend on their intercession, which helps to guide our lives and lead us on the path of life eternal. So it is right to celebrate this as we celebrate other holidays, with great festivity.

I think it’s important that we celebrate Halloween and All Saints Day as one, which is the intent. If we do that, we keep our minds on what is positive and turn away from all that bids us evil. So yes, I think it’s okay to trick-or-treat, to celebrate with parties, and to dress up. But I’d skip the more evil costumes, perhaps in favor of costumes honoring the saints, and any party games that summon evil, like Ouija boards.  In fact, if you have an Ouija board in your house right now, I want you to go home and destroy it and throw it away – don’t even give it to someone else – it’s not a party game.  All these are things that open the door to evil, and we always want to avoid that.

Avoiding evil was the glory of the saints. That was part of the path to holiness for them. As we celebrate all the saints today, we might think of some who famously battled evil and won. Saint Michael the Archangel, my middle-name patron, fights the battle of evil that we don’t usually see, every single moment. He is a wonderful patron, and we should memorize the prayer to him and pray it often. Saint Benedict battled evil temptation in his own life by rolling around in briars rather than give in to a lustful memory.  The Saint Benedict medal is particularly powerful in warding off evil.  Saint Patrick, my principal patron, famously converted the pagan king of Ireland to Catholicism and exorcised the forces of evil in that country. His famous Breastplate prayer is considered a deliverance prayer and a help to those who feel oppressed by evil. Of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, is a powerful protector of all of us, her children. And let’s not forget our Guardian Angels, who do battle for us on a daily basis. That’s just a few of the saints who battle for our good.

And in the spirit of their glorious battle, we should dedicate ourselves to joining them one day. We are all supposed to be saints, and as tall an order as that may sound, it needs to be our number one priority. Because there is no one in heaven who is not a saint. So then, we need to take all the help God and His Church gives us: we must dedicate ourselves to the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist, which together are more powerful than a solemn exorcism. We must put prayer at the beginning, in the middle and the end of our to-do lists, dedicating ourselves to the Blessed Sacrament, to the reading of scripture, and devotions, particularly the rosary. We have to make every effort to live the Gospel, and to give witness to the power of God’s love in our lives and in our world. Because if we honor and witness to Christ in this life, he will surely be our advocate in the life to come.

So yes, I think Jesus might trick-or-treat. But we come to him today for the best of all treats, the saving grace that he offers us that we might join the saints in heaven one day. We come to Jesus rejoicing and full of gladness, because we know that those who belong to him will have great reward in heaven.

The First Sunday of Lent: Remembering Who We Are

Today’s readings

The devil wants more than anything for us to forget who we are.  He really didn’t care if Jesus ruined his fast by turning some stones into bread, or if he killed himself trying to test God, and he certainly had no intention of making him king of the world.  What he wanted, what he really wanted, was for Jesus to forget who he was and give himself over to him.  And we see in the first reading that that’s how it all started.  The serpent didn’t care what tree Eve ate from, he just wanted her, and Adam, to forget who they were, to forget that they were beloved children of God and that God would take care of them.

So if I could suggest a theme for us for Lent, it might be “Remembering Who We Are.”  That’s why we have the Cross up here, front and center.  I want us to see that in the Cross, God gave us the very best he had, and that when we take up our own cross, God sustains us and makes us more than we could be on our own.  Just as Jesus remembered that he was God’s Son and that he came here for a reason, and that reason was to save us from our sins, so we have to remember that we are sons and daughters of God, and we are here for a reason.  The devil will try all sorts of tricks to get us to forget that.  He will throw at us job difficulties, serious illnesses, the death of loved ones, family strife, and the list goes on and on.  He will tempt us with the latest gadgets, the job promotion, the opportunity to get rich quick, and that list goes on and on too.  He wants us to forget who we are.

Because if we forget who we are, the devil’s job is an easy one.  If we forget that God made us and redeemed us out of love for us, then he’s got his foot in the door.  Once that happens, hell looks like something glamorous, enticing and exciting.  It feels like living on our own terms, looking out for number one, and doing what feels right to me.  And that’s awesome, except of course, that it’s hell.  And the glamour fades and the excitement turns to rancor, and we’ve wasted our lives chasing after stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The antidote to this hell of our own making, is letting go – giving what might even seem to be necessary to us, and trusting that God will give us what we need.  That can be the treasure of Lent for us.  In fasting, we can let go of the idea that we alone can provide what is necessary for our survival.  God can feed our hungers much better than we can.  In almsgiving, we can let go of the idea that everything is ours if we would just worship the one who cannot give us what we truly need.  God gives us what’s really necessary in life, and also life eternal.  And in prayer, we can let go of the fading pleasures of this world and of Satan and take on the enduring luster of a life lived as a son or daughter of God.

And so I would like to suggest a program of retreat for these forty days of Lent.  It’s nothing new; I didn’t create it.  It’s what the Church gives us every Lent, and I feel like if we want to remember who we are, we should take it on in its entirety.  So this retreat consists of the three things I just mentioned: fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  And our parish gives you so many resources for choosing something to do for each of them.  You may have seen our Lenten tear-out sheet in last week’s bulletin.  If you missed it, we will be mailing it to each house in the parish in the coming days.  Take a look at it, post it on your fridge, and plan to make this Lent a good one.

For fasting, we have our day of Fasting and Reflection on April 1.  It’s a day that you do independently with some input from us.  Fast that day from 6am to 6pm, attend 8am Mass and pick up the reflection guide, attend Adoration from Noon to 1pm, then end the day with Mass and making lunches for PADS at 6pm.  It’s a day of making sense of fasting, and letting God give us what we need while we hunger for him.

For almsgiving, I’d like to encourage us to help with the 40 Cans for Lent.  Our parish food pantry is in need of restocking right now, and so your donations of a box or can of food each day of Lent help so much.  You can also help our Knights of Columbus in this effort by distributing food bags on March 4th and collecting them on the 11th.  And that’s just one example of almsgiving that will really make a difference.

And for prayer, our parish is doing the “Living the Eucharist” series this Lent.  This is an opportunity for us all to come to a greater understanding and love of the Eucharist that we share each week here at Mass.  So you can pick up a copy of the individual reflection booklet at the information desk today.  I’ve been using them for prayer the last few days and they are really good.  We also sent a family activity book home with each school and religious education family, so if you have one, please take some time as a family to work through it.  We also have a weekly reflection each Sunday of Lent in the bulletin.  And finally, it’s not too late to sign up for one of our “Living the Eucharist” small discussion groups; you can do that at the information desk today.

Fasting, almsgiving and prayer remind us that we are beloved sons and daughters of God who are always taken care of by God, if we let Him; that when we give of ourselves, we all become more; and that as we become more our prayer leads us into the life of God himself.  May we have a blessed, and joyful Lenten retreat, all of us, sons and daughters of God.

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Satan uses all sorts of things to trip us up, and he can be seen front and center in today’s readings. In the first reading, he has this curious dialogue with God about Job, who will suffer much in the readings to come this week. Satan points out that it is no big deal that Job has remained faithful, as much as God has blessed him so far in life. He wagers when that’s all taken away, things would change in a hurry. But Job’s faithfulness is deeply-rooted, and Satan was wrong, it wasn’t just because of his blessings. Job remains faithful and does nothing disrespectful of God.

In the Gospel reading today, Satan uses envy to stir up trouble. First it’s envy of one another when the disciples waste their time trying to figure out which of them was the greatest, kind of like some kids trying to figure out which one was dad’s favorite. Even when Jesus puts that to rest, they then get envious of some people not of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name.

What’s important is that we need to discern when Satan is working on us. We don’t want to be used as his plaything. We need to be serious about our faithfulness and say with Job, “blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

The question that Saint Paul asks at the beginning of today’s first reading is one that we’ve all heard countless times: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  We might even be tempted to pass by that question and move on to something else in today’s Liturgy of the Word, but I don’t think that’s wise.  Because it’s an important question, and one that confronts us all, in some way, time and time again.

We might go through a rough patch in our lives: loss of a job, death of a loved one, a severe and trying illness, damage to a marriage or strain in any relationship.  These are the issues that try our souls and sorely test our faith.  We might even at times be tempted to give in to despair and lose our focus in such a way that it affects our health and well-being.  But we believers dare not do so, because God is for us.

We might hear news that is difficult to absorb.  Our society may be in a sad state of affairs; the political climate may be divisive and disheartening; we may be fatigued or even alarmed by the rise of terrorism and the proliferation of war; morality of our communities may be far off-base and all of this might cause us to question what is going on.  We might be tempted to throw up our hands and lose all hope.  But we believers dare not do so, because God is for us.

There is someone, certainly, who is against us, and that one is Satan, and yes he and his threat are real.  Even the celebration of this Halloween day might make us shake our heads.  But Saint Paul reminds us that even Satan cannot ultimately take us down, because God is for us.  Saint Paul quite rightly insists that “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is the same consolation that comes from devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Divine Mercy.  It is the consolation for which we gather this morning at the Table of the Lord.  It is the consolation that takes on every threat we encounter this day or ever in our lives: nothing and no one can separate us from God’s love.  Nothing.

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