Going "Bump" in the Night
My son Paul has had a thing for scary stories ever since he was a wee lad.
One year, at a parish retreat, he was seen reading the novel Jurassic Park with great interest. This was no small task for the average nine-year old boy (which is why it helps that Paul is above average). Upon being alerted to this by an astonished adult, I replied, matter-of-factly: "So? He's already seen the movie."
Maybe it was his mother's influence, because it certainly wasn't mine. Her affiliation with the Byzantine Rite has been passed on to Paul, where the emphasis on mystery rules out the Thomistic rationalism common to Western spirituality. In addition, her grandparents came to this country from Slovakia, one of a number of places in the world where there exists a fine line between Catholic devotionalism and occultic superstition. When we were married, our observance of Halloween was highlighted by the Annual Reading of the Tarot. (She had an aunt who did it for a living. Go figure.)
She has passed on this hallowed (???) tradition to Paul -- over my objections, obviously.
Not because I do not take the use of such powers seriously, but precisely because I do. As a Catholic, one accepts a belief in the forces beyond those of this world, both for good and for evil. Those tools which call upon the powers beyond nature, which do not make their true intentions known, shall be usurped by those entities who will respond as they will, usually to our peril. After all, nature abhors a vacuum -- as does supernature. And as Thomas Aquinas teaches us, evil -- malum -- is nihil. It is nothing. God is existence itself, for as he told Moses, "I am who am." Thus evil is nothingness, confronting which is to come face-to-face with the ultimate horror. Hence the identity of such forces with darkness, to be conquered by the impending dawn.
On the bright side, Paul's fascination with the otherworldly has made him a devoted follower of the TV series The X-Files, which followed two FBI agents in their investigation of cases unexplained by natural causes. This has led him to the study of the Church's history of her battle with the Evil One, including cases of demonic possession and exorcism.
He could probably use a really good scare, which is why I hope someday to introduce him to an exorcist. Such an illuminating discussion could enhance his awareness of the reality of evil in the world, and how Mother Church equips us to do battle with it.
But for tonight, somewhere in Front Royal, Virginia, at a farmhouse which has since lost its acreage, a family of Catholic homeschoolers will have a special Halloween party, where guests will come dressed as saints, their identity to be guessed by the others. (One year I went as the anonymous fourteenth century mystic who authored The Cloud of Unknowing. They never guessed who I was. Imagine that.)
Closer to home, I will partake of that phenomenon of Catholic culture known as (yes, Mr Shea, you guessed it) zydeco dancing. Maybe I'll wear the ninja costume, maybe not. Only my eyes will show. When I last wore it, the eyes were enough to give me away, to those who knew me for only a few months.
Or maybe I'll go as myself -- again.
In the meantime, Helen Hull Hitchcock provides us with a beautiful analysis of the feast in question.
And with that, a Blessed All Hallows Eve to all, and to all... let's be careful out there, eh?
(My acknowledgements to the Rev Franklin McAfee, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, whose writings contributed to this entry.)