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What are you going to be for Halloween

Kate Barrett | Thursday, October 29, 2009

If you’re still asking, “How was your break?” it’s time to switch gears; it’s Oct. 29 and there’s only two days to go.

In our house, Halloween isn’t too big a deal. The extent of our decorating includes two big pumpkins from the farmers’ market plopped on our front steps, which some enterprising squirrels have already discovered as the perfect fall snack food. Our daughter plans to be a hippie, though she had to Google “60’s fashion” to answer the question, “Mom, what does a hippie look like?” Our oldest son originally wanted to dress as his favorite food, bacon, or “the candy of meats,” as he prefers to call it. Then he learned that a) now that he’s in high school you don’t get to wear your costume to school and have a party in your homeroom — in fact, you don’t even really have homeroom; and b) because of a sporting event he will miss out on trick-or-treating and on two friends’ Halloween parties.

I have a dear friend whose opinions I respect, whose five children have never trick-or-treated or dressed up in Halloween costumes. She feels quite strongly that the holiday celebrates evil with too cavalier an attitude. Now, don’t roll your eyes as you’re reading — I know it’s not a mainstream way of thinking, but she believes so strongly both in the existence of God and in the existence of evil that it pains her to give a day, or anymore now practically the whole month of October, over to glorifying so much of what pulls us away from God.

C. S. Lewis, his wonderful book “The Screwtape Letters,” reminds us quite humorously — but also forcefully — that evil enters our lives on a petty, even unnoticeable level, much more often and insidiously than on a grand scale. The “patient” referred to in the book simply tries to live his life as a Christian, while Screwtape (who’s sort of a middle management type in Lewis’ bureaucratic depiction of the underworld) and his nephew and lackey Wormwood plot and scheme about how to use the most ordinary events of the young man’s life to draw him apart from The Enemy (God). Screwtape coolly prods Wormwood to “keep the waters muddied,” to make it difficult enough for the man to live with faith and integrity that he might just give up trying. The young Christian “patient” could be doomed simply by not looking carefully enough for the truth of a situation; by growing more and more comfortable delivering humorous insults to garner a laugh; by taking the efforts of a loved one for granted, or by allowing one’s prayers to become lax and insincere. As Screwtape reminds Wormwood, nothing drastic is necessary because “the safest path to hell is the gradual one.”

So is it a ridiculous stretch of the imagination to believe that Halloween somehow qualifies as a holiday in which fictional forces of evil such as Screwtape and Wormwood — or the real forces of evil in which we Christians believe — might take great delight? I don’t think so. Big-time Evil gets our attention, but sneaky little evil weasels its way in when we’re not looking. Maybe we ought to think twice before wanting to “be” Freddy, or Jason, or Leatherface, or a “sexy” French maid (costumes which are now widely available in grade-school sizes).

Halloween’s origins specifically connected it to All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1, and the message was quite clear: evil could give it a try, but goodness would triumph in the end. Now that connection is largely unknown, and Halloween has become the second-most commercialized holiday behind … (tah dah) Christmas. Ugh. Screwtape and Wormwood might find our culture filled with such easy targets they wouldn’t even want to waste their time.

So can we celebrate Halloween at all? Probably. We don’t believe as Catholic Christians that we need to isolate ourselves from the world. Jesus certainly never did. Halloween can be a great reason to have a party, to buy a little extra of our favorite candy, to carve a pumpkin, and yes, even to dress up in a costume. But it might also be the perfect time to remember to be careful — very, very careful — of the insidious ways evil can creep into our lives and tug us gently but insistently away from our focus on God.

Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” If evil is real enough that we need to be delivered from it, then we’d better learn to recognize that evil too wears many costumes, and wants to disguise itself so that we can’t see it, no matter how hard we look. So whatever you decide to do on Saturday, be sure to remember the Halloween advice of teachers and parents everywhere: don’t choose any costumes that might obstruct your vision.

This week’s Faith Point was written by Kate Barrett, director of the Emmaus Program. She can be reached at [email protected]

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