benedict option,  Catholic Spirituality,  Catholics Do What?,  Evangelization,  feast days

Saints alive: In the world, but not of the world

It’s the Feast of All Saints, which means everyone has a raging sugar hangover and we’re on our second round of costumes in 24 hours – which, I admit, sounds miserable but which I manage by encouraging, nay, insisting, that would-be Halloween costume contenders transition almost effortlessly into saint costumes. So, for example, this year we have Darth Vader/St. Ignatius of Loyola, Luke Skywalker/St. Francis of Assisi, a crazy cat lady/St. Therese of Lisieux on her First Communion day (okay, that one did not transition well AT ALL), and the Chic-fil-A cow/the holy cow of Bethlehem (what? I’m tired).

Jedi look an awful lot like Franciscans, don’t you think?

The point is, if I’m going to be a fun mom and let them trick or treat the night before, it sort of behoves me to bust my butt making sure All Saints Day isn’t a big ‘ol womp womp compared with the glories of trick or treating. Which, happily, in the Catholic mega-community we’ve worked at creating here in Denver, with some help from our friends and a huge helping of grace, is not difficult to do.

I have to admit to not loving the rush of hustling bodies into costumes for the second day in a row and skidding out the door for 8 am Mass at school (costumes optional. But not really, unless you want to be the weirdo without a halo), but I do it because it’s important – it’s essential to us – that our kids know the entire point of Halloween is to point us to this great feast of all the members of the Church Triumphant. In a supremely teachable moment last night, the stuff Twitter wars are made of, truly, 5 year old John Paul asked “mom, why do we celebrate something evil right before we celebrate something holy?” and I all but shouted to STOP THE TRAIN BECAUSE HONEY, we are not celebrating evil, we’re looking it in the eye and saying, “nuh uh, we know who defeated death. And the victory is His.)

But it was a good reminder of how hard we need to work to present an attractive, compelling, and profoundly true narrative to counter the culture’s obsession with death, gore, and all things temporal.

And probably I’m not going to get the neighbors to dismantle their sadistic graveyard for the entire month of October, but I can surely make certain that our family parties hard come November 1st, drilling it home to our kids that Halloween is the low-key dress rehearsal for the big dance. So we trick or treat and have fun with the neighbors, but the real party is the next day, starting with Mass, a huge feast with all our little saint icons and peg dolls gathered around the huge dining room table, and culminating with a massive party with 100 of our closest friends at the home of our favorite religious order, the Servants of Christ Jesus.

Could we skip trick or treating all together and pretend Halloween doesn’t exist? Sure, we could. And that would be fine. But it wouldn’t be super realistic. Our kids see the entire city decked out in ghoulish decor come late September, and they know something is going on, and so we ride the wave of momentum driving their excitement right on into November 1st, kind of the way we take the premature hype and hustle of retail Christmas during Advent and use it to point out to them how insanely excited the whole world is about Jesus’ birthday, “they can’t even wait till Christmas to start celebrating!” And then we have to follow up by keeping Christmas alive for 12 days, which is 11 days longer than even K-Love is willing to go.

But being Christian means being countercultural. And for our crew, we’ve determined that our counter-culturalism will take the form of willingly embracing what is good in the wider culture, and using it as a springboard into what is even greater: the truth of the Gospel.

We see these widely-celebrated secular holiday seasons as a kind of protoevangelium of what is good and true and beautiful, but which falls just short of the entire reason for joy: Jesus Christ.

So yes, Halloween, but only because it’s the eve of the festival of all the great saints of heaven, triumphant in eternity because of Christ’s trampling over death. And yes, Christmas cookies in early December, but only because we’re sharing in our neighbor’s joy that something so wonderful happened to the human race 2,000 years ago that we haven’t stopped celebrating since, even if many have largely forgotten the cause for celebration.

In entering into what is good and lovely in the culture and using it to reinforce the truths we’re installing in our children’s hearts, our prayer is that we’re forming not only good disciples for Christ, but good missionary disciples. Able to engage and participate in the culture of which they are very much apart, never forgetting for a moment they are very much set apart.

So today, we feast. We get up early for Mass as a family. We eat too much candy. I make dessert even though it’s comically superfluous in light of 4 overflowing pumpkins atop the fridge. We attend a raucous party on a school night that is wildly inconvenient and unwise in terms of sugar consumption. And tonight during bedtime prayers, we’ll light every candle in the house and crank Matt Maher’s “Litany of the Saints,” invoking the prayers and memories of all our heavenly friends. And did I mention we eat candy?

My kids know plenty about alllllll the Marvel superheroes. They have the Star Wars universe all but memorized without even trying. It’s not realistic for me to expect them to fall in love with the real superheroes of this world unless I put in the effort and the energy to make sure they are known, loved, and emulated. Challenge accepted.

(And sure, we could skip Halloween altogether. And if your family does, that’s totally cool.) Me? I like a little bit of a challenge. I like trying to out-cool the culture in terms of which party is bigger, badder, and lasts later into the night. I like letting our kids have a taste of what’s good from an earthly perspective and allowing it to whet their appetite for what’s good from a heavenly perspective.

And I love teaching them about the saints, our real-life friends in heaven, alive in the presence of Jesus and cheering us on as we run so as to win the race.

(Don’t have a favorite saint? Click here to discover a new heavenly bff of your very own.)

(Want to learn more about a specific saint? Check CNA’s saint archives here.)



  • Mary

    Hi Jenny- Wow, a raucous All Saints party sounds wonderful. We belong to a parish in San Jose, CA and send our kids to the parish school. Other than Mass, there was no celebration to speak of today. (Although there was a Halloween parade yesterday.) How do you find communities of people to share in these celebrations with? It’s frustrating for me that my local parish is constantly prioritizing secular celebrations over church celebrations (Christmas parties in early December, Easter parties before Easter, no All Saints party for the children at all, etc.). Any thoughts on balancing being a part of a community with feeling like the community isn’t on the right path? I feel like such a Grinch sometimes compared to the others.

  • jeanette

    One year when I was a catechist teaching my first communion class, I had a sudden revelation of how to explain to them about the Real Presence of Jesus in the host that they would be receiving in communion. It was fortunately near Halloween, so I told them that when they put on their costume, they would appear on the outside to be something such as a pirate, or a ghost, or a princess. But beneath the costume it was really their true self. So then I pointed out to them that while Jesus comes to us under the outer appearance of bread and wine, that hidden beneath the outer appearance, it was really, truly the very Body and Blood of Jesus. They really got it.

    Another lesson for kids to learn is that we don’t want to imitate that which is evil, but want to imitate that which points the way to following Jesus. The saints are the examples for us, and we don’t just dress up in those costumes in the same way that we dress up for Halloween. We are in a sense clothing ourselves in the aspiration and desire to follow Jesus by learning how a particular saint did just that. We even clothe ourselves in white for baptism to symbolize that same desire. This goes even further to the point that what we appear to be on the outside can be a reflection of what we are on the inside, or it can be a way to mask our true self. This is a little deeper than a young child can grasp, but for the older child, it is not too far from their understanding.

  • Emily Hines

    Hey Jenny! I am a huge fan of your blog. I just noticed you slipped in there you guys don’t do Harry Potter? I know I am opening up a huge can of worms but was just wondering if I could hear your thoughts? We are very much on the fence so I am just trying to get everyone’s opinion of those we trust. Thank you so much!

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