From the true Light there arises for us the light which illumines our darkened eyes. His glory shines upon the world and enlightens the very depths of the abyss. Death is annihilated, night has vanished, and the gates of Sheol are broken. Creatures lying in darkness from ancient times are clothed in light. The dead arise from the dust and sing because they have a Savior. He brings salvation and grants us life. He ascends to his Father on high. He will return in glorious splendor and shed His light on those gazing upon Him. — Ephraim the Syrian, “Hymn to the Light”
The price for All Saints’s Day is All Hallows’ Eve which has turned into a bit of a spectacle. First off: Many articles have been written about the origins of the festivities that are normal these days. No, they do not have ancient precedent in Druid Ireland and pagan commemorations that supposedly were displaced by All Saints’ day were actually never attested until after the 12th century whereas the celebration of All Saints’ day goes back to the 8th century.
Second: Most of what travels our streets today is the product of the last 100 years. The fact that the mater is malleable should be obvious to us. Until about 20 years ago, we celebrated “Hell Night” in Detroit and other large cities. It was a game of urban renewal of sort as people went about and torched empty houses.
All that said: Most scary costumes worn today at beggars’ night are taken from the latest horror or dark action flick. Those have something in common: They celebrate earthly existence, often, as in the case of all zombie costumes, earthly existence that is merely a macabre continuation of the same identity that was only partially left behind at whatever gruesome death has been experienced. All ghost costumes belong in that file as well.
The non scary costumes are of beautiful fantasy or whimsy imagination. They seem to say: “I want to be something other than what I am. I want to be something other than what I have to be day to day. I want to escape for a while.”
I have a confession to make: I don’t do costumes. I do not feel the point of it. Maybe it is because I was fairly self conscious as kid. You could dress me up but that made me feel even more awkward about myself. Inside the costume, the kid felt no better about himself, maybe he even felt worse. Sometimes I think I see this type of loathing in the faces — what there is visible of them — of the children who walk the street of my little village. Somehow, the shell does not fit; it gives no comfort or joy. Probably it is because they are here and their best friend is in a different village and both would rather be where the other one is. What do I know.
But seriously: Somehow the shell isn’t us. Even the shell we wear every day. Truly I tell you: those who love their mask will loose it and those who lose theirs for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will find their true self for eternity. OK, so Jesus never said that. But I am not so sure that he would hate it.
The saints are to a certain degree, people who have in this life lost their mask. It has been taken from them. All of it. In the case of some saints, and I am thinking of the recently canonized Teresa Of Calcutta, even their confidence and certainty that many assume comes with having Faith, was taken and they lived in only hope and longing that somehow what they at one point were certain was true, good, precious, and divine was also real and that it would meet them at the door of death. In short, they could not live fantasy as it was shattered by doubt or martyrdom. They also did not and would not settle for mere earthly existence even if that existence was to prolong itself indefinitely as some sort of unvanquished “spirit,” and they certainly did not succumb to any macabre distortion of life.
Those who find themselves on the “blessed” chart in Jesus’ Beatitudes might well be in this camp in general.
The festival we call “All Saints” was meant to hold up true humanity lived in Faith. Yes, everyone might fall into that camp but we know that many do not. Saints are revered because somehow we saw in them not people wearing the mask of Christ but people who were Christ’s mask in the world. They somehow picked up a cross and walked the world.
The devil has many nights. We fear those nights and console ourselves with security in the from of riches, comfort, prestige, and laughter. Saints seem to have been stripped of all those and of the enjoyment of those. See Francis of Assisi or Benedict of Nursia for example. They lost them and did suffer the words of Luke 6:28-30, sufferings that they accepted and eventually cherished as having purified them in Faith and giving them a shape, a form, that was only conceivable if Jesus Christ was real and alive — in them.
We ask ourselves on this day: Do I wear a mask because I am keeping the dark at bay with it, hoping it will even scare the flesh, the world, and the devil from coming close? Do I make sense as a mask of Christ?