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All Saints and All Souls (Prayer - Novena)

All Saints and All Souls (Prayer - Novena)

This upcoming Sunday and Monday, on November 1 and 2, the Catholic Church will celebrate All Saints and All Souls Days, which means it's also time to stock up on candy for Halloween night. The word 'Halloween' is a contraction of the words 'All Hallows Eve,' meaning the night before All Saints Day.  The merchandising bonanza Halloween has become has obscured the core meaning of the holiday to the point where few people know its religious significance.

Halloween is a popular American spinoff of ancient harvest festivals, including the Celtic festival of Samhain. As with other such observances, Catholic missionaries 'baptized' pagan holidays to imbue them with Christian significance while allowing the native peoples to retain their traditions.  Scotch-Irish immigrants to America brought certain customs with them that eventually became the Halloween we know today.  

This is a time of year when the strength of the sun wanes, the lively greens of spring and summer fade, wither and fall to the ground.  This is also the harvest season, a time for storing away food for the hard winter ahead.  The days growing shorter and the challenge of surviving another winter serve as a natural occasion to reflect on the temporary nature of life, and the inevitability of death.  This is a time of year when people have traditionally imagined the realm of the dead to loom closer than usual to the realm of the living.  So it's no coincidence that dressing up in costumes and going trick-or-treating originate in ancient rituals meant to keep troublesome ghosts at a safe distance.  


We live in a world where we banish the dark and the cold with a flick of a switch, numb ourselves to anything that is mildly painful or incovenient, explain away mysteries with science and chase away the stars with light pollution.  Is it any wonder, then, that we see an increase in religious skepticism? In an economic system primarily concerned with the acquisition of consumer goods, we are seldom encouraged to ponder the big questions or look at life through the lens of impending death. 

Perhaps all of this gives us clues as to why those who travel from the States to the mission sites of our child sponsorship programs invariably return with glowing accounts of the vibrant spiritual life of those who live there. Maybe those who live on the margins see the boundaries of life on this earth more clearly than we do here in the US.  Perhaps all of the bright shiny things and creature comforts we enjoy obscure our view of life's rough edges.  This may also explain why so many of our sponsors find that they receive so much more than they give when they sign up to sponsor a child through CARITAS For Children.  Whether it's in a cancer ward here in the US, or through letters with a sponsored child in Uganda, we should not be surprised when someone confronted daily by the transitory nature of life helps us refocus our attention on the things that really matter.