BEYOND HALLOWEEN: HOMILY FOR ALL SAINTS DAY (NOVEMBER 1ST)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD
In most countries especially in the West Halloween is an elaborate celebration. Shops become busier, there are lots of jingles are heard welcoming yet another Halloween and reminding people that they need to dress in scary costumes, and some people organize Halloween parties where attendees all appear in gory costumes and masks. However not many people know about Halloween or its origin. Even among those who mark it every 31st of October, the insight as to its origin and development could be really low. The name Halloween is actually a reconstruction of “Hallows evening” or “Hallows eve”, that is the evening before All Hallows day; which is the same as “All Saints Day!”
Halloween as a culture dates back to the Celtic people who lived in Britain many years ago who observed the day of the dead or festival of the dead. It was believed that on that day, dead people would come around among the living. To escape being harmed by them , the living would dress in frightening costumes as a way of mixing up with dead people who would mistake them to be dead too and thus not harm them. Such costumes include skeletons, vampire, brains, animal faces etc.
It is often forgotten that Halloween ought to be the eve of the celebration of the feast of All Saints. The idea of “All Saint Day” could have started with the gradual growth of Christianity from 313 AD. Those who lived worthwhile lives where remembered on the day of their deaths hence the feasts of various Saints and Martyrs on various dates. However it was reasoned that there are many who have merited heaven without human recognition. On the basis of this, the feast of All Saints was instituted to celebrate all the faithful departed who are enjoying the bliss of heaven and whose names may not be found in the litany of the saints or missals.
The current date of November 1 was instituted by Pope Gregory III (731-741), when he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and ordered an annual celebration. This celebration was originally confined to the diocese of Rome, but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the feast to the entire Church and ordered it to be celebrated on November 1.
Beyond Halloween, we are celebrating today the joy of those who have gone before us and who are enjoying the beatific vision of heaven. We are happy because they have reached the place of eternal rest and we are hopeful to be there only if we have all the necessary travelling documents in place for that eternal flight at the end of our earthly existence.
Our conviction about a place of eternal bliss after our sojourn here on earth is based on biblical confirmations. During the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus Christ among other things said: “blessed are the poor in Spirit for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (Matt. 5:3); he also said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Furthermore in the gospel of John (14:2) our Lord said: “In my father’s house there are many mansions if it were not so I would have to you. I am going to prepare a place for you!” In his letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 2:9) St. Paul said: “Eye has not seen ear has not heard neither has it entered into any mind what God has prepared for those who love him!” He also said that we have a better place after the destruction of this our earthly dwelling place. (2nd Cor: 5:1)
The vision of St. John in the book of Revelation we read today gives us the whole scenario or if you like the eternal picturesque of heaven. In his words, John looked up and saw a huge number of people impossible to count standing before the throne of the lamb with palms in their hands. To confirm what he saw John asked “who are these?” and he was told they are people who have been through great persecution and they have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. It is worth noting that the robes washed in the blood became dazzlingly white. This is an indication that the people in question soaked themselves not just in physical blood, but in purity.
Sainthood is a facility that is open for all of us. This facility continues to run for you and for me insofar as we are alive. For us to achieve sainthood, which is the end product of our pilgrimage on earth, we need to know:
1) Where we came from: (We came from God our Creator).
2) Who we are: (We are Children of God).
3) Where we are going to: (We are citizens of heaven).
“How can we get to our destination?” This is a question that each and every Christian should be asking himself or herself daily. On this, God did not leave us clueless. From the beatitudes of Matthew 5, we are presented with values that will aid us to attain eternity. The beatitudes we heard today from the gospel of Matthew (5:1-12) are not merely “dos” and “don’ts”. They rather are expressive of core values that will make our journey back to God possible.
You and I have all it takes to make heaven and thus be numbered among the saints. We have the word of God which is read and explained to us on daily basis, we have the sacraments especially the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist very much available to us. Just as heaven is real so is hell also real. We make heaven starting from the things we do here on earth. What will it then profit us if after the challenges of live and the attendant undulations we still suffer the lost of our souls in hell? There is no better time for us to prepare for heaven than now.
Happy All Saints Day and may God’s mercy lead you on! And may you be numbered among the saints in heaven!