Death is not an option! No one gets out of life alive. Saint or Sinner, we are all destined to die.
Halloween hits us right in the face with the reality of death. It memorializes the grim and ghoulish, the horror and the horrible. Today, we are in the midst of the three holy days of the year (Oct 31, Nov 1 and 2) that celebrate what it means to be human and to face death as saint or as sinner.... or as both... and what that means for how we live our lives.
Three holy days?......you are thinking. What is she talking about! The three holy days are the conclusion of Lent: Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and the Resurrection.
True. But these three days known in the church as Hallowmas, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day are also Solemnities, high holy days. They celebrate what we humans must all reconcile ourselves with.....living and dying either as saints or as sinners....or both.
The All Hallowed Evening of preparation, (what today we call Halloween), was once a time for prayer and purification and preparation for the solemnity of All Saints' Day. Hallowed meant Holy. Like in "Hallowed be thy name......"
All Saints' Day was a day originally meant to memorialize the early Christians and martyrs who had attained the Beatific vision. (Which meant they really had seen God and Heaven and it didn't kill them!)
All Souls' Day, (sometimes called the Day of the Dead by other cultures, like the Aztecs and the Celtic Druids,) was a specific day to remember to offer up prayers on behalf of the faithful departed, especially family, whose souls were believed to be wandering around lost between life and eternity. because they weren't in a state of grace at death. The church appropriated the Day of the Dead to Christianize those cultures, placing it the day after All Saints' Day, as a day to pray for the faithful departed, especially family, whose souls were believed to be in purgatory, because they weren't in a state of grace at death.
Today, All Hallow Evening has become Halloween, a time for spending billions of dollars on costumes, candy, and parties, a time for focusing on evil and gruesomeness, celebrities, monsters and criminals. (and maybe a few fairy tale and cartoon characters.) Today, the evening of preparation for remembering the Saints among God's people whose lives provide insight into what it means to live holy lives, glorifies vampires, devils, werewolves, Freddies of Elm street and Bernie Maddoffs.
Today, All Saints' Day is about remembering all the Good "guys" of Christianity, (and yes, the guys vastly outnumber the gals in the sainthood, given who puts them there), the people who are part of the communion of Saints, the cloud of witnesses both living and dead, whether they are canonized or not. We can look to their lives for inspiration of how to live ours. We honor them. We don't worship or adore them. They are the canonized saints, the patron saints, the guardian saints, the Protector saints, the local saints. We remember them and celebrate our beliefs about the dignity and destiny of human beings. Out of curiosity, ask yourself,as Christian Catholic, which day gets more of my attention: Halloween or All Saints Day?
Pre : Vatican II theology, the theology that Martin Luther challenged when he pounded his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg church in Germany on All Saints' Day in 15??, was based on a notion that the souls of the dead wandered in purgatory until they got their "get out of jail free" card through either the intercessory prayers of their family and friends, or the purchase of enough indulgences by those same people. It was a buy your way into heaven theology, but of course the dead couldn't make the purchase so the loved ones did it for them. (And by the way, the indulgences also helped pay for the building of St. Peter's in Rome.)
The Vatican II Council did away with the flawed theology of selling indulgences to "save souls" (and build cathedrals) in the 1960's, about 450 years after Martin Luther demanded it, on what is now called Reformation Sunday in the Protestant church.
Today All Souls' Day is a day to remember the rest of us. People who sin and people who have flaws. (I dare say this includes us?!) There are far more sinners than there are saints and, truth be known, even those canonized as saints had their own dark sides and fatal flaws of sinfulness-simply because they were human. They had personal sins and were part of the sinfulness of their cultural contexts. (One only needs to think of slavery and colonialism, racism and sexism to be reminded of that sinfulness.) Today progressive Christians look for flaws in their saints and they recognize that all people do good as well as "evil," or the hurtful or the dysfunctional. If we practice "Spiritual Alzhiemer's," we will only remember the "perfection" of the saints, not their flaws and humanness which make them useful and inspiring for us. Today All Souls' day is not a "pray your loved ones out of purgatory" day anymore. It is a feast day to remember with stories and photos, candles and flowers, incense and mementos, the sinner saints of our own lives who have given us much and taught us much, despite their sinfulness, even in their sinfulness. Sometimes that is a painful, but necessary remembering. Sometimes joyful, and sometimes downright confusing.
Don't suffer from "Spiritual amnesia." We all need to remember who the saints were in our lives, people generous with their love, their time, their talents, their treasure. But All Saints' day is not about uncritical ancestor worship. It is a time to remember what was good, and learn from what was not so good. Maybe these three holy days should be renamed the Feast of All Saints and Sinners to remember not only the early Christians and martyrs of all eras, but also the non-martyred Christian witnesses who "lived the Gospel," including our own personal sinner saints, and maybe even ourselves! From profoundly human sinners to the beatific saints, we could describe our bumpy human journey as from the cellar to stellar!
We all definitely know that we all are sinners.
But how can we know that we are on the way to being saints, to becoming what we are to become? That we are joining the cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints?
What makes for a saint today? It isn't the jaws of a Lion, the rack or being burned at the stake. However, recently it has been bullets and rape and murder by machete, all too often in South and Central America, where some saints live the Gospel by hungering and thirsting, fighting and dying for justice for the poor.
For the rest of us, what makes for a saint today, isn't martyrdom. It is generosity, justice, prophetic preaching and speaking truth to power. It is surviving a great period of testing in our lives and continuing to honor and praise God, even in our suffering and even our anger. It is trying to keep ourselves "pure" It is in being humble or poor in Spirit. It is our mourning. It is our gentleness. It is our own hungering and thirsting for justice. It is having clean, uncontaminated hearts. It is enduring persecution, insult and slander because we struggle for justice, because we try to live the gospel.
The pope may canonize certain dead religious celebrities, with the right number of miracles under their belts, into saints, but it is living the Gospel that grows saints out of sinners. Living the gospel is what will make us saints, taking us from the cellar to the stellar.