The Catholic Roots of Halloween

A cloud of mystery surrounds Halloween. There are some who believe it is the “devil’s night,” while others it is simply a secular night of dressing in costumes to go trick-or-treating. There is more to the modern Halloween traditions, and they go back centuries.

It’s a natural reaction for Catholics to distance themselves from anything that involves the occult. Rather than disregard Halloween all together, one must search the depths that surround an important Solemnity and is deeply imbedded in Catholic tradition.

Asking for the saints to intercede on our behalf has been part of Catholic Tradition since early Christianity, and is also deeply rooted in Sacred Scripture (cf. Revelation 5:8, Hebrews 12:1, and 2 Maccabees 12:39-45). In the early 8th century Pope Gregory III instituted All Hallows’ Day (or All Saints’ Day), on November 1, as a Solemn day–also a Holy Day of Obligation–to remember those who have attained heaven. Within a century this Solemnity spread throughout the entire Church thanks to Pope Gregory IV and was declared a universal feast day.

The Irish-Gaelic winter festival, known as Samhain, began to be celebrated hundreds of years after the institution of the Solemnity of All Saints’ Day, and it’s vigil, All Hallows’ Evening. Samhain was a festival that marked the beginning of winter in Ireland and was practiced by non-Christian pagans. Some Neopagans in recent years claim that Halloween has pagan origins and is derived from the pagan festival, Samhain, but the burden of proof simply doesn’t stack up.

The word Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening, and is the vigil of the Solemnity of All Saints’ Day. The night before All Saints’ Day people would offer prayers to the dead, sometimes within cemeteries themselves since they are “hallowed” ground. In parts of Europe, people would light bonfires and carve turnips (or in America, pumpkins). They would also collect treats, known as soul cakes. Soul cakes were small round cakes topped with a mark of the cross to signify alms. The tradition of giving these sweet, savory treats was celebrated in Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages. This tradition continues today in some countries, such as Portugal.

Local customs and traditions varied from different areas, but the aspects of Halloween, such as believing in ghosts and demons, were deeply rooted among the Catholic people. Catholics believed that at certain times of the year, Christmas included, that the “veil” between Purgatory, Heaven, and even Hell, became more thin and one could see the souls in Purgatory (ghosts) and demons. This eventually led to people dressing up in costumes.

The first major attack on Halloween became apparent in Post-reformation England where the celebrations of local Halloween customs were outlawed. In the Northeastern United States, Puritans outlawed both Halloween and Christmas. It wasn’t until the 19th century when Irish-Catholic immigrants revitalized Halloween and All Saints’ Day in the United States.

The opposition on Halloween continued into the 20th century, largely by anti-Catholic and anti-Irish groups. Halloween was also becoming more commercialized, and secularized. Halloween and Christmas traditions and customs that were once so deeply rooted in Catholicism had been whitewashed and deemphasized by the secular culture.

The attacks on Halloween surged again in the 1970s and 80s with anti-Catholic fundamentalists. Halloween began to be referred to as “the devil’s night” and urban legends started to spread to dissuade people from partaking in festive celebrations. Horror and “slasher” movies became synonymous with the “scares and frights” of Halloween, such as John Carpenter’s 1978 cult-classic, Halloween.

Today, many Catholics are unaware of the Catholic roots of Halloween, along with the more-so recent anti-Catholic attacks on Halloween. Since the 8th century we have celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints Day and its vigil. It’s a special day for us to ask the saints to intercede and pray for us. Whether one decides to participate in the celebration of the vigil, All Hallows’ Eve, is a personal choice. Dressing in costumes, carving pumpkins (and turnips), and collecting treats have been done for many centuries, not to mention praying for the dead, and they are all Catholic. Celebrate Halloween with an All Saints’ party. Dress up as your favorite saint, play games, collect treats. You could even decorate candles to be used for praying for your deceased loved ones. It’s time to put the Catholic back in Halloween.

Traditional Halloween folk song (chorus):
A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.

by John Connor

How To Avoid Distractions and Live a Devout Life

You strive to live a good Catholic life, but you find yourself being bombarded with distractions at the most random moments. It can impede living a devout Catholic life.

We live in a modern world that is full of distractions in the form of electronics. Sometimes distractions can be a means to temporarily escape from your busy life in order to relax. Anybody that owns a television, computer, tablet, or smart phone knows how easy it is to be distracted.

Distractions from God can be dangerous to your spiritual life. “And this I say for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is seemly, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” (1 Corinthians 7:35)

Because of original sin we have a natural tendency to focus on our own needs, rather than what God wants from us. Spiritually speaking we are like children that seek attention. We have to fulfill our basic physical needs, to eat healthy and get plenty of rest, but then we fall short on our basic spiritual needs–to spend time with our Lord, to adore Him, and to give him thanks every day.

The distractions are there. They are real. You’re familiar with what distracts you. Thankfully you also notice your need to spend time with Christ every day. Father Larry Richards says, “we are called to be people of prayer, and we are called to be people of love.”

We spend time with Christ at least once a week at Mass. This is the most opportune time for you to push aside all distractions and encounter Him in the Liturgy. If at all possible, arrive early so you can procure some quiet time and prepare for encountering Him in the Eucharist. You will get the most out of the Mass by this preparation. Yes, that means arriving at church early. This is a simple act of love on your part, by giving God more of your time. Also, spend a few minutes after Mass in silent prayer offering thanksgiving to Jesus for allowing Him to come and nourish your soul in the Eucharist. You can never spend too much time in the presence of our Lord at church.

Mass is about active participation. Not just an external participation with liturgical responses and singing, but there is a deeper, rather, supernatural participation that happens within. An internal, contemplative participation that reaches the depths of your soul. Your connection to the Mass uses all five sense that resonates to your inner participation. Whenever your distracted by one of your five senses, it interrupts your internal participation. Distractions come and go. Focus your eyes on what’s happening at the altar. That’s where the Lord makes Himself physically present in the Eucharist, and you want to receive all the graces you can to nourish you physically and spiritually.

Prayer is life-changing. It’s how we communicate with Christ and to deepen our relationship with Him, but we usually do all the talking. There are times in prayer where we need to listen to Him speak to us. In addition to praying the Rosary or other recited prayers, include silent prayer in your prayer regiment. Silent prayer (e.g. Ignatian Examen; Lectio Divina) is a deep and rich way to encounter Christ. Turn off all electronic devices when in silent prayer. You will find silent, contemplative prayer methods will enrich your prayer life.

We cannot completely get away from distractions. Our mind can be our worst enemy because it wanders from here to there. Ask Christ to help you. To shift your focus from yourself onto Him. He will guide you to a more devout life.

by John Connor

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Discipleship

A disciple is someone who “adheres to the teachings of another.” As Catholics we adhere to the teachings of Jesus through the Catholic Church. We are His students. Christ desires for us to be like Him.

Our discipleship begins at our baptism when we enter into the covenant family of God, and continues to form at home. We learn from our parents what it means to be Catholic by going to Mass every Sunday, going to Confession on a regular basis, praying together as a family, and receiving the sacraments.

The way we worship [at Mass] is what structures our belief system as Catholics. For instance, if Mass is celebrated reverently we will learn to believe that the Eucharist is the actual Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, and not just a symbol. How we worship in the liturgy resonates what we believe as Catholics. This is an important part of how our discipleship with Christ comes to fruition.

Does being a disciple of Christ mean you have to be an active participant, that you have to possibly make changes in your life?

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” – John 14:15

When you truly love our Lord and have an eagerness to be His disciple, you will follow His two Great Commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-40) The ten commandments are summed up in these two. Christ instructs us to keep these two as the greatest acts of love we can offer to God and others.

As disciples we follow Jesus by obeying him through His commandments, and we also have to be willing to give Him everything we have. In the story of “The Rich Man” (Matthew 19:16-22) the man followed the commandments, but was unwilling to give up everything. He enjoyed his possessions. Does following Jesus mean we have to literally give up everything we own? No, you have to make a living to put food on the table and pay your bills, etc. If there is something that comes between you and God, then yes you must be wiling to give that up. Sometimes it helps to take inventory of all the external things you love and enjoy doing to see if they get in the way of going to Mass every Sunday or daily prayer. These can be the simplest of distractions. Eliminate distractions and you’re then able to focus on God.

Christ calls you and I to be disciples by ways of our baptism, but He also calls us to form others to become disciples too (i.e. devout Catholics) when He preached the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations. That means telling others about Jesus and His Catholic Church. You have to evangelize. Share the good news about why being Catholic is awesome. Your formation of being a faithful disciple never ends. There is plenty to discover about the Catholic Church in order to help you form disciples.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8

Being a faithful Catholic and disciple is not easy. There will be adversity along the way. We live in a “me” culture that is very secular. You’ll run into opposition on important topics as abortion and same-sex “marriage.” Jesus never said being a disciple would be easy, but you will be rewarded in the end. “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14) As Catholics, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we shall endure. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:12-13)

“If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!” –St. Catherine of Sienna

by John Connor

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Always Remember Who You Are

Always Remember Who You Are

People influence us different ways. One way is to pass on knowledge from one generation to another. When I was a young boy I knew a man, Mr. Reagan, that frequented my family’s business. He was a World War II veteran and always had fascinating stories. Before he would leave he would say, “be a good boy, and always remember who you are.” It was like clockwork. I could expect it every time.

As I grew up it didn’t really resonate what exactly he meant by always remember who you are. The “be a good boy” part was a no brainer. We should all be good. It didn’t really sink in until I became Catholic what Mr. Reagan meant by always remember who you are. Who am I? Who are you? We are Catholic-Christians, and nobody can take that away from us. There is an indelible mark on your soul from your baptism and it’s there for all eternity.

Do people know you are a Catholic?

We all love something or someone. We love our family, friends, sports, etc., and we share what we love with others. You have pictures of your family at home or at work. You share information about your favorite sports teams on social media. But with all the sharing you do when it comes to your family or sports teams, do people know you’re Catholic?

The word “evangelize” means to share the Gospel (or Good News), or in a simpler term, evangelizing means to tell others why you love being Catholic. That’s it. You don’t have to become a holy roller and beat people over the head with Christianity. Nor do you have to have a theology degree or be able to quote scripture.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to evangelize at Big Lots. As I’m standing in the check-out line a man noticed I was wearing a crucifix necklace, which is a great conversation starter. He asked if he could tell me about Jesus. I said, “Sure, I’d love to tell you about Jesus.” We spent an hour outside the store talking. He spent that time trying to convince me to leave the Catholic faith, while I spent that time telling him why I love being Catholic. I had to use some basic apologetics to defend the faith, but my message to him was clear. I love being Catholic. We finally decided to conclude our discussion, because he wasn’t going to convert me and I wasn’t going to convert him. But one thing was for sure, he just met a Catholic who knew and loves his faith. I had planted a seed that day.

That’s what it means to evangelize. Anyone can do it.

You can evangelize too. It’s easy. It starts by knowing who you are. A Catholic. That’s the first question to ask yourself is why do you love being Catholic? When you can answer that question then you’ll want others to know. Share Catholic posts on social media that have meaning to you. Listen to Catholic radio to learn more about your faith so that you’ll be able to share that Good News with others.

Always remember who you are.

by John Connor

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Forgiveness is Divine

Forgiveness is an act of the will. In order to forgive others we must first seek God’s will. God never runs out of mercy. The doors to forgiveness never close. We must know that we are not alone.

In the Our Father we pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we want God to forgive our sins, we have to be able to forgive the sins of others, especially when those sins have hurt us. We cannot pray the Our Father sincerely without looking at our own faults, our own sins. Yes, we want God to forgive our sins, but we also pray that He forgive the sins of everyone around us.

There is a cloud of emotions that we have to muddle through in order for our will to conform to God’s will.

Anger is a power awareness and usually a first response during or after a confrontation with another person. Anger in itself is not a sin. “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). We still have a responsibility to manage our anger and not let it get out of control.

It takes time to process our reactions, especially anger. We want justice and we want it right now. Rather, we leave the judgment to God, as we see in Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord.”

Acting impulsively on our emotions can do more harm than good. Maybe there are times when you think about an encounter you had with someone and you wish it had never happened. It would be nice if things were back to normal, but that doesn’t always happen, at least not right away.

When you allow the negative conscious to subside, that’s the time to place it in the hands of our Lord. If you truly want forgiveness to take place, it also must be accompanied by healing. But healing will take time, especially when someone really hurt you.

You aren’t sure how you’re supposed to react during this process. Happiness [and peace] versus anger. We do not have full control over our emotions, but we can influence them, rather than have them dictate the outcome.

If it becomes difficult to control emotions, such as anger or hatred, I strongly encourage you to go to Reconciliation. Healing takes place within the Sacraments. Keep in mind you don’t have to necessarily like the person that hurt you, but you are called to love them just as Christ loves you. To forgiven them as Christ forgives you. The next time you’re around the person that hurt you, you’re may not be sure how to react, and those feelings of anger may return. Frequent Reconciliation often. Forgiveness is a process. It will take time.

Over time a hurtful memory can re-surface. That sense of anger can be trigged. Instead, use this time to thank God for His forgiveness. His mercy endures forever.

Prayer is so important, especially the Rosary, because in the Rosary we pray the Our Father asking for forgiveness, we ask the Blessed Mother for her intersession, and Our Redeemer, Christ our Lord is at the center of the prayer.

You cannot be assured that the person in question will repent or is even aware that they hurt you. What you can do, and should do, is pray that the person will repent and God will be merciful. As you pray for him or her you will find peace. Anger may surface from time to time, but the more you sincerely pray for God to have mercy on that person the more you’ll find peace within.

Jesus is merciful and forgives you of your sins. Pray He will have the same mercy on everyone who has hurt you. Forgiveness is divine.

by John Connor

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True Discipleship

Born to be Magnificent

Bishop Robert Barron said, “A saint is a friend of God. A saint is someone of heroic virtue. A saint is someone who is in heaven. A saint is someone who has allowed Christ to live his life in him.”

Destination Heaven

God wants nothing more than for us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. It begins here and now. By cooperating with the love and grace that God gives you, through the Sacraments and in His Church, your life in Christ points to the ultimate destination, Heaven.

“And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20

Getting Sidetracked

In Matthew’s Gospel the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea. Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” As Peter was walking on the water he was fine as long as his focus (and faith) was on Jesus. But as soon as he took his eyes off Jesus, his faith diminished and Peter started to sink.

Taking the focus off Christ gives way for temptation to set in and we’re more likely to commit sin. The word sin is an archery term that means “to miss the mark.” Our aim and our goal is that bullseye which is Jesus Christ (and Heaven). Deep down we want to be a saint, but sometimes we miss the mark. That is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To forgive us and to help us from committing the same sins again.

Fishers of Men

Jesus said in Matthew 4:19, “Come after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.” In other words, “your life is about to change.” Change is not always easy. Moving through uncharted waters, so to speak, makes us uncomfortable. Consider how God has worked through you thus far. We first have to open up and allow change to happen. Achieving sainthood is a lot easier when we cooperate. I cannot think of a better example of someone saying yes than our Blessed Mother, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)

“The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” -Leon Bloy

Be a Saint

Growing up in the 80s there was a popular slogan: “Be Like Mike.” Be like Michael Jordan. People often times look up to movie stars and athletes. Desiring to be like them or to look like them. What if we modeled our lives after a saint? The beauty of the Catholic Church is that we have so many saints from all different backgrounds, personalities, and experiences. So many different saints to choose from to look up to and pattern our lives after.

Heaven is our final destination. Rather than settle to be the last one out of Purgatory, strive to be a saint here and now. If you “miss the mark” by committing a sin, go to Reconciliation. If you get sidetracked and lose sight of Jesus, explore a deeper prayer life, read daily Scripture, or go to Eucharistic Adoration.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
-St. Augustine of Hippo

by John Connor

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