All Saints and the Transformation of Halloween


REV 7:2-4, 9-14; PS 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6; 1 JN 3:1-3; MT 5:1-12a

Every year my wife and I have a big discussion about how we should deal with Halloween.  I’ll let you know if we ever come up with a good answer.  We have five little kids.  We don’t want them embracing the world’s standards of good and evil, beautiful and ugly.  We’re not excited about lots of candy.  And – on the other hand – we think that somehow, somewhere, there’s a good insight in Halloween, and we’re not into just ignoring our culture.

Halloween is, of course, really All-Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints.  The original insight is something along the lines of, All Saints (Nov 1) remembers those in heaven, All Souls (Nov 2) remembers those in Purgatory – and Hallow’s Eve (Oct 31) remembers the forces of Hell.  There’s something to that.

Our readings for the feast take us deeper.


The first reading is from Revelation.  All Saints is an apocalyptic feast.  It introduces November, the month of the dying of the year, by turning our gaze toward the end of time.

The reading from Revelation speaks of the great battle between the forces of heaven and the forces of hell.  It begins with “the four angels who were given power to damage the land and the sea” – the great destruction at the end of time.

The saints are gathered around the Lamb, singing his praises.  If we read more of Revelation, we know that its central image is “the Lamb who was slain,” a magnificent apocalyptic vision of Christ as victim.

The saints themselves are described here as “the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”  Already we are turning the gore of Halloween inside out: the ax murderers and the zombies are replaced with those bathed in the blood of the Victim.

The destroying angels stand for God’s condemnation of the standards of this world.  Or, to put it more positively, all things are passing, God alone remains.  It is not God who condemns this world, but this world that condemns itself, by clinging to what does not remain and forgetting the one thing necessary.  The blood-stained saints have held on to Jesus when all else collapsed.


We need to be in this apocalyptic frame of mind to appreciate fully our Gospel reading.  It is perhaps the most profound reading in all of Scripture, all of literature: the Beatitudes.

We can read them against Halloween.  Against pirates and princesses, Christ proclaims, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  The world dresses up as the powerful and the plunderers – and Christ calls us to imitate him, the powerless who was plundered.

While the world celebrates conquest, Christ celebrates those who mourn.

The closest the world can get to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, and the peacemakers is superheros.  But as the world decides whether to dress up as Batman or a zombie, we see that Christ calls us to a very different kind of heroism, our strength not in superpowers or high-tech weapons, but in the suffering of the Lamb.

bergognone-peter-the-martyrThe multitude of saints in Revelation have axes in their heads, not in their hands.


In this apocalyptic light we also read our epistle, from First John.

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.”  How fascinating that, as our children dress up as adults, Christ calls us adults to become as children.

Yet avoiding the worldliness that affects our children, too.  “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  We are not called to become children in the sense that we mindlessly embrace the world’s standards of glory and go seeking after candy.  We are called to become children in the sense that we take God as our Father, Christ as our model, and the Holy Spirit as our soul and way of life.

Halloween reminds us of the world’s standards, the world’s mistaken views of good and evil, of glory and gory.  It reminds us that the saints live by an entirely different standard, one that turns worldly values inside out.

“Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.”  But part of that purity is seeing the foolishness of this world, associating ourselves with the victims, and the Victim, of this world’s crimes.

Like I said, I’ll let you know if I ever figure out how to turn these ideas into a children’s party.  But I think it means something deeper than just turning our backs on Halloween, or just embracing it.  To truly appreciate All Saints, and the fabulous new standards that it sets before us, we need to look Halloween in the face, and turn it on its head.

How does Halloween help you think about the Beatitudes, or the Apocalypse?

All Saints

11_1_3_saintsOn Saturday we celebrate the great solemnity of All Saints. What do we celebrate?


First, we celebrate hidden saints, and the distinction between a public life and a hidden one. After their founder, St. Bruno, the Carthusians hermits don’t have canonized saints. That is not because there are no Carthusian saints in heaven. To the contrary, we can assume that their intense life of prayer, their uniquely total consecration to Christ, has produced thousands of saints.

But it is the nature of some vocations to be hidden. In the same way, Catholic motherhood is a pretty intense school of sanctity. But it’s the nature of motherhood – in fact, it’s part of the holiness of motherhood – that most of its work goes unnoticed, given over as it is only to children who mostly aren’t paying attention.

The same is true of the poor, including the homeless, those who suffer mental illness, menial laborers, and the abused. These are all paths to holiness, straight ways, like the Carthusian vocation, to heaven, for those who embrace them. But they are paths to holiness precisely because they are ways of being forgotten, of learning to find all our identity in Christ, and not in human glory.


Most of the canonized saints are powerful (kings and queens) and public (popes, bishops, and members of religious orders). The reason for that is not that these are the unique ways to sanctity – if anything, power is a hindrance. Rather, it is because the sanctity of these figures is seen.

One of my favorite sections of Vatican II is Lumen Gentium’s section on Religious Life, which emphasizes that the difference is not that they are more holy, but that they wear their holiness on their sleeves, so as to remind all to be holy.

On All Saints, remember that holiness goes beyond those who are seen, to a countless gathering of unseen saints.


An interesting corollary: we do not celebrate a feast of “all are saints” – just as Vatican II’s teaching on the “universal call to holiness” is not a teaching on “universal holiness.” We celebrate All Saints to remind us that all are not saints: but many of the saints go unnoticed. What a lovely devotion: to the unnoticed and unnamed saints.



A second way of looking at All Saints is the diversity of the saints. Each saint deserves his own look as an individual, and so we give them separate days, separate opportunities to glance at their specialness.

But now and then – at least once a year – we do well to put them side by side, just to notice who spectacularly different they are. John Paul II, Padre Pio, and Mother Teresa: alike in their total devotion to Jesus, alike in many respects. But what different ways of sanctity. What different ways of carrying the cross. What different ways of embracing the poverty of Jesus. What different ways of giving their life to the Church.

And these are three saints from one century, and they are all from Catholic parts of Europe. Add in Elizabeth Ann Seton, the North American Martyrs, Kateri Tekakwitha, and John Neumann. They only span three states – Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. But what different flavors of sanctity!

All Saints is a reminder to us, not only that we are called to be holy though we may never be noticed, but also that we are called to the holiness of our particular state in life. I am not called to be a holy Jesuit missionary, nor a holy Mohawk-Algonquin Indian. I am called to live the love of Christ in all the particularities of my own vocation.



Finally, All Saints calls us to envision the heavenly city, where this great diversity of saints stand shoulder to shoulder in praise of the Lamb.

This is the truest image and exemplar for the communion of the Church. It is a communion, first of all, in love of Christ. Like the saints in the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church is not bound together by sociology or by programs. They are bound together because they are bound to Christ.

It is a communion in sanctity. The saints are fabulously diverse, but as they stand together before the throne, they are instantly recognizable to one another, all living the same consecration in all their myriad ways.

And it is a communion of friendship, loving one another with the passion that comes from the love of Christ. That is what the Church is meant to be.

All Saints is the ultimate image of the Church.

How does your vocation call you to a holiness distinct from the other saints?