Halloween is right around the corner.
Orange and black displays fill the grocery stores with candy and rubber masks, pumpkin pie bakes in the oven and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot is heard as children enjoy nature’s last call before winter arrives.
For Christians, Halloween has a special significance. Most of our holidays in America come from religious celebrations (holidays equals “holy-days”), and Halloween is no exception.
The word itself – Halloween – refers to the night before All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1, so it’s “All Hallows’ Eve,” or “the evening before all the holy people (saints) are celebrated.”
So what does that mean — holy people — and how do we celebrate them?
Jesus Christ’s life was full of miracles, it was filled with mystery and radiance. People were struck by his wisdom, peace, generosity, courage, love and freedom.
He was different, set apart from everyone else by a greatness of spirit that seemed to be supernatural. This difference, being set apart for God, is what we call “holiness.”
Anyone who follows Jesus hopes to be holy like he is holy, set apart for God, with a unique mission and a Holy Spirit that makes their life different from the lives of people who don’t know or follow Jesus.
Saints are the people who are like Jesus in the world, bringing healing, freedom and salvation through self-sacrificial love.
The Bible is full of references to people who have become holy.
At the beginning of the letter to the Romans, Saint Paul greets the earliest Christian community in Rome with an invitation to holiness: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints”… (Rom. 1:7).
Every Christian is called to be a saint. Over the course of history, some Christians are exceptional examples of what Jesus’ life looks like in others.
Some saints are people of divine peace, like Saint Francis, who lived Jesus’ voluntary poverty to serve the poor of his town; some of divine love like Saint Therese, whose quiet life of sacrifice has inspired millions; and others of divine courage, like Saint Frances Cabrini, who was afraid of water but traveled the Atlantic Ocean again and again to bring help from Italy for more than 70 hospitals and orphanages she started in what was once a poor United States (she even started an orphanage in Denver).
The Saints inspire us to be better Christians. They remind us of our own call to holiness and our hope for Heaven.
They show us that following Jesus shouldn’t make us boring or judgmental, but full of life; free and enjoyable people. They pray for us just like we pray for each other.
Once a year, on Nov. 1, Catholics and many other Christians remember the saints and celebrate their lives with services, festivities, and special prayers.
In the fall, daylight grows short. Darkness comes earlier and earlier as the weeks go on. Holiness is spiritual light in the midst of the what is, at times, a dark and scary world.
It comes from Jesus, about whom the Bible says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
Jesus, the light of the world, enlightens the hearts of everyone who lives with his life. He said to those who follow him, “You are the light of the world.” (Mt. 5:14).
The lives of Saints radiate with the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus. As the dark comes earlier, threatening to conquer summer’s light, the Christian is reminded of a spiritual struggle and challenged to live like the Saints, without fear of the spiritual darkness of evil, hatred, cowardice, slavery, and sin.
On the evening of such a marvelous day (All Hallow’s Eve), it’s no surprise that we want to celebrate with candies and costumes, and to venture out against the darkness, as if to say like the Saints: You can’t spook me!