“Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.”
– G.K. Chesterton
At this time of the year, as they bustle about for their little mock-Patricks and Augustines, gluing miters and stitching chasubles (each of the same fine material and nearly so well-crafted as the dreck one finds on a living Bishop) the Buzzkill Catholics are once again foisting onto the faithful their annual All Saints parties.
These parties are typically scheduled not on the Feast of All Saints, but on the evening of the day before, aiming intentionally to harsh your mellow and preclude the culturally normal observance of Halloween. The Buzzkill Catholics, you see, detest cultural normalcy.
The origins of Trick or Treating are hotly debated. Are these old Catholic traditions, filtered through the experience of Irish immigrants to America? Is it door to door alms for the poor in exchange for prayers? Do more anti-religious origins lie shrouded in history, such as the annual mockery of English Catholics on the anniversary of the failed terrorist plot of poor, powder-damp Guy Fawkes? Or does something even more sinister lurk, a pagan festival perhaps, or devil worship itself?
Nestled as he is at the heart of holy mother Church, this church of bone chapels, cadaver synods, the fresco of the Last Judgment, and monks who sleep in coffins lest they fail to memento mori, the modern Catholic Gentleman may observe the present hubbub and think to himself, “this lot are off their trolleys”.
My children, dear reader, have a compact disc of classic nursery rhymes. In the recording of “Three Blind Mice” in the place of the line about the Farmer’s wife cutting the tails off of the mice, are sung instead the words “She gave them some cheese and said have a good life”.
Imagine if you will growing up in the bubble wrap-and-helmet culture of here and now, under the careful tutelage of your helicopter parents. Despite hearty participation in the Childhood Obesity Epidemic, your self-esteem is high. You are a special snowflake. Nothing ever goes wrong. Not even vermin are dealt with harshly.
Imagine the jarring stupefaction and numb terror when you pick up a newspaper to discover that life is not quite exactly like a Disney movie (except that the girls have smaller eyes). Rather, this is a world where mothers pay those who have sworn to heal to instead gut their unborn children out of their wombs, where murder of every horrifying variety is splayed out across the news, where a gang of Stone Age Thugs in pajamas proposes to win the world for God by sawing the heads off everyone else, where sin overwhelms the disciplined man and crushes the undisciplined, where the melon spoon is too often confused with the caviar spoon, and the spork threatens to abolish the proper setting of flatware altogether.
Nay, The modern Catholic gentleman wishes to prepare his children, not only for the perils of slapdash etiquette but for the devils who lurk in the quiet waiting to damn them to hell.
Some have argued that the imagery of Halloween goes too far. To this the modern Catholic gentleman responds that in its observance, the feast of St. Valentine tends to licentiousness and lust. That of Saint Patrick has become an excuse for drunkenness, and Christmas an orgy of consumerist materialism. The world will corrupt, but the modern Catholic gentleman preserves.
But is it pagan in origin or is it Christian? Bemused but never befuddled, the modern Catholic gentleman, however ill-equipped to judge the conflicting accounts, knows better than to care what is the answer is at all.
He knows that if his children are to be any use to themselves or their families, our people, the church, or the world, they need to engage in the powers of imagination. They need also to know what evil is; they need also to know fear.
Halloween, the Catholic Gentleman knows, in all its spooky goodness, serves a pressing need in children. Cloaked in merriment lest children lose heart, the great parental conspiracy of Halloween induces kids to imagine some of the most terrible (and terrifying) facts of human existence. This darkness, juxtaposed with the light of All Saints, is no more a thing to be missed than is all the candy he will steal from his children as they sleep.
And when his Buzzkill Catholic friends inquire as to which saint his kid will dress up as for All Saints Day, he replies with courteous zeal, “That freaking awesome Saint who’s also a ninja!”
For just as there exists no darkness so great that it will not be pierced by the smallest light of the jack-o’-lantern, neither is there ignorance which the wisdom of the modern Catholic gentlemen cannot overcome. His is a faith that baptizes pagan temples, enshrines the mortal remains of the departed in its altars, and battles fallen angels face to face. His God commands His people to eat His very flesh and blood; his saints have conquered the black magic of druids and laid axe to the tree of false gods, all to claim victory over the power of death.
The Catholic Gentleman and his children do not fear Halloween. To fear it is to give it a power it does not possess. Prayers said, his little sugar-addled minions will be tucked snugly in their beds, and he will rummage through their bags, seeking his tithe.
His duty done, he may retire for cocktails.
John Carriere is a salesman who successfully dropped out of high school in the 90’s. He likes flower gardening and shooting things with guns. He lives in Ontario with his wife and five children where they attend the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. He produces a quasi-frequent podcast called The Carriere Show.
Originally published on Oct 31, 2014