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Halloween: who do you want to ‘be?’

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, October 27, 2005

Still thinking about Halloween? Searching for that perfect costume and wondering who you should “be” for the big day? At the risk of all of you e-mailing to tell me “you’re no fun!” (Hey, I have four kids; I hear that every day, so don’t even think it’ll bother me), I offer a few suggestions for those still looking for an identity to assume.

First, pick somebody you can be proud of. In other words, do you really want to be Lindsey Lohan or Russell Crowe for the day (or night)? Do you even want to become Elvis or Elvira or some oversized inanimate object (head-to-toe Tootsie Roll costumes are available on-line for those who answer “yes”)? Here’s my “comes-from-a-mom” advice: at least take a little time on Halloween to figure out who your heroes are, to wonder about who you’d really like to “be.”

Along those lines, simply look ahead to the day after Halloween: All Saints’ Day.

Consider St. Vincent de Paul. While a young priest, he happened to be on a boat sailing to his home country of France, and pirates captured the boat, taking as prisoners everyone on it. Father Vincent spent the next several years as a slave in northern Africa. He converted his slave-owner, a farmer, to Christianity, and the two of them escaped back to France, where Vincent raised money for the poor, set up shelters, organized the wealthy to use their riches to help the homeless and started homes and orphanages for abandoned babies. He also never forgot what it felt like to live in slavery and raised money to buy more than a thousand slaves and bring them back to free lives in Europe. The world now remembers St. Vincent de Paul for his care and mercy toward the suffering poor.

If you feel the urge to return to your childhood princess costumes, you may want to know about St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth had it all … whatever “it all” was in the 13th century, anyway. As a princess, and then a queen, she still knew that wealth and splendor could not satisfy her or create a meaningful life. She left her mountaintop castle so often to care for the sick and the poor of her kingdom that they began to come up to the castle themselves, knowing she would not turn them away. Elizabeth decreed that a hospital and an orphanage be built in a more convenient location for her people, and she spent nearly all her time there. She ultimately built a hospital dedicated to caring for those with the most dreaded diseases, such as leprosy and the plague. It’s amazing to note that Elizabeth accomplished all this before her death at the age of 24.

Or perhaps you could go as St. Jerome! Think “cave-chic,” circa A.D. 400. Simple robes are fine, and if you don’t get a shower for a few days (or weeks) before the big party, that’s okay too. Before you recycle all those drafts of your last research paper, save them for your costume: Jerome spent fifteen years of his adult life translating the Bible into Latin, the “language of the Church” at the time. Though Italian, Jerome lived in a cave near Bethlehem during these years, believing that being closer to the places where Moses, David and Jesus had walked and lived would help him do a better job. Surrounded by ancient books, an oil lamp for light, piles of papyrus paper and a hand carved pen for dipping in ink, Jerome would read the Hebrew of the Old Testament or the Greek of the New, and then slowly, painstakingly, think about and record what Latin words would stay true to the original meaning of the text. His crucial efforts allowed the Good News of the Bible to spread far and wide.

These three represent a mere sliver of the heroes who can help us figure out what’s important and how we can get there, heroes of our past recognized by the Church and those who live around us today. Saints – and all holy people – show us that God is real and that we can draw strength from Him and from their example to put God and His will first in our lives. Perhaps you will be, or are already, a hero for someone else.

Spend a little time asking yourself, as Halloween approaches, who do you want to be?

Kate Barrett is the Director of Resources & Special Projects for Campus Ministry. She can be reached at Barrett.28@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.