By Jenny Koch
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
I recently noticed the prevalence of gruesome Halloween decorations. A recent trip to Michaels made me realize how much I loathe seeing spiders, snakes, witches and mummies. This season of changing leaves and beauty includes Halloweeen - All Hallows Eve - a celebration anticipating a Holy Day of Obligation and two very important, ancient Christian feasts - all Saints Day and all Souls day. I can’t really wrap my brain around the desire to fill a house with cobwebs, ghosts and things that remind you of all the gross things in life - including death.
Then it hit me. If I claim to be a Catholic mom trying to make my home a Catholic home, perhaps I should put my frustrations aside and embrace the excitement. No; I have not purchased memento mori rings for trick-or-treat prizes, although the thought crossed my mind. I’ll still celebrate with my children, grinning and smiling at the grotesque “dead” bodies in front yards. But this year, I’m focusing on the Catholic means by which we honor the dead. October is the month of Mary, and the entire month of November is devoted to praying for the dead. How can we better prepare ourselves to share with others the importance of the saints? When All Saints Day rolls around on Nov. 1, I want to be celebrating with a renewed spirit of connectedness with those in heaven.
We are all, indeed, connected. My favorite line from St John Henry Newman’s prayer is “I am a link in a chain; a bond of connections between persons.” Here is an example from the early Church. St. Clement, our fourth Pope, “had seen the blessed Apostles.” We know this because St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote about his life. St. Irenaeus attended a school of Bishop Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John. This same St. Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, a town that St. Ignatius passed through on the way to his martyrdom. These four saints, like all of us, are connected by their words and deeds.
St. John Henry Newman encourages us to “freely and affectionately visit and trace the footsteps of the Saints…whose words still live.” He also concludes that our faith “rests upon the past and its content. It makes the past the mirror of the future.” Living with that outlook, we can have a “natural power over the world…and speak with ‘all the virtue and the grace of those many Saints who have been lifelong companions.” If we deepen our knowledge of the saints, we can help the Church in “revealing the mysteries of the heavenly world.” Living and praying with the saints helps us have a certain “language of souls.”
It’s RCIA startup season, and I’m hoping and praying that someone reading this needs to be that “link in a chain” to get them there. Perhaps you think you’re just a parent; but have you considered that you may be raising a saint? October is a great month to begin a new devotion to St. Mary! The thoughts of the dead - whether it be a saint or an ancestor - remind us that we are all connected. Our Church has a beautiful tradition of honoring the dead, and we are steeped in thousands of years of history in which saints have changed the world by being that “link in a chain.” Celebrating - and decorating with - the dead is so popular right now. The truth behind the season, if we can look beyond the snakes and witches, is that we need to honor the dead and learn from them, knowing they are still with us in many ways. While I was upset by the decorations and still cringe at fake mummies, I’ll be changing my focus this year: looking for chances to explain that this holiday is truly a holy day. I’ll be praying for you too, that you may find a saint to inspire and help guide you in your journey closer to Christ.