Sunday, November 2, 2014

What it's all about

   Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed   

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9 / Psalm 23 / 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 / John 6:37-40

I love the Peanuts holiday specials,
and make it a point to watch them again each year.
On Thursday night, we introduced Fr. Justin to,
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
I think he enjoyed it.

Now, do you remember the scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas
where Linus gets up on the stage,
reads the gospel account of the Nativity, and then says,
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown”?
Well, I really, really wish there was a scene like that one
in the Great Pumpkin, too!
Why?  Because, for weeks, I’ve been trying to find a way
to explain to Fr. Justin what Halloween is “all about.”

We’ve guided him through the process
of carving his first jack o’lantern (he did very, very well),
and given him advice on where to find parts for his costume
(his Duck Dynasty beard was quite convincing).
But it’s one thing to teach somebody the mechanics of the holiday,
quite another to help him understand what it all means.
Cute youngsters in disguise, begging for treats;
people threatening tricks—some harmless, some hurtful;
homes decorated with tombstones and skeletons
(or even things far more frightful)—
why in the world do we do all of this?

Having had to think about this a bit more than usual,
I’d say that Halloween, marked as it is by things both silly and scary,
is a way that we’ve found to laugh in the face of death.

Now, to be clear,
that’s not at all to make light of anyone’s grief.
Losing a loved one is certainly no laughing matter.

Yet while death must be dealt with honestly,
for the Christian, death is nothing to fear.

Could you hear St. Paul laughing during our second reading?
In the face of human mortality he says:
Ha!  Where, O death, is your victory?
Ha!  Where, O death, is your sting?
You might as well admit your defeat,
because you will not be the end of me!

Even as commercial and creepy as its gotten in recent years,
Halloween is still the build up
to two of the Church’s great observances:
to the feast of All Saints on November 1st,
and to the commemoration of All Souls on November 2nd.
First we celebrate the heroes of our faith
who inspire us and intercede for us—
those who’ve gone before us in death
and who can now assist us from heaven by their prayers.
But then we pause to call to mind the faithful departed—
all those others who’ve gone before us in death,
who are still on their way to heaven,
and who we have a duty to assist by our prayers.

As these twin observances make plain,
it is our faith that, at death, life is changed, not ended.
We believe not only in the immortality of the soul,
but in the resurrection of the body.
And while soul and body may indeed be separated for a time—
as with Jesus’ own three days in the grave—
we believe that we shall be raised up on the last day.
Christ’s death on the Cross and Resurrection from the dead
are the very heart of the Christian faith.
By Baptism and in the Eucharist,
we are caught up in Christ’s incredible victory.
The Lord of hosts had long promised
to wipe all tears away and destroy death forever.
It is for this that the Son of God was sent:
by dying and rising, to save us from our sins
and to open for us the way to eternal life.
If we don’t really believe this,
then none of the rest of the Catholic faith
makes any sense whatsoever.
But if we do really believe this,
then it changes absolutely everything.

So you see, Easter and Halloween have a connection far deeper
than just being occasions for eating much too much candy;
each in its own way gets to the core 
of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.
One gives us the solemn reason, the other a comic reminder,
of why we Christians are able to laugh—
laugh in the face of death.
And that is what it’s all about.

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