By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published November 2, 2017 | En Español
It is now the season for retrieving those outdoor home decorations that we stored away last year!
I suspect that all of you have seen the signs of the obligatory period for setting out ornaments for the seasonal changes that we are about to undergo. Pumpkins and gourds, bales of hay and cornstalks indicate the autumn celebration of the harvest. Halloween decorations introduce witches and tombstones, along with spiderwebs and bats, as symbols of the day. Soon Christmas decorations will overwhelm us—even before we reach Thanksgiving or Advent.
These decorations are colorful and often quite charming, but they generally have lost any connection with their Christian meaning. They are more driven by merchant interests rather than by any promotion of faith celebrations.
To be fair, most of our Christian holidays were clearly influenced by earlier religious or secular traditions. We Catholics understand the importance of symbols—our entire ritual life is filled with the natural elements of water, oil, bread, wine, candles and incense that point to deeper religious truths. So when we view these contemporary outdoor displays, we ought to ask ourselves: where did they begin, what was their original meaning and how do they convey a religious truth for Christians today?
The fruits of the harvest remind us of God’s bounteous goodness in providing food and sustenance for the human family. They constitute a reward for the hard labor of those who tend the earth and raise up a harvest in collaboration with God’s grace.
The month of November is often referred to as the month of the Holy Souls because it is the time when the Church invites us to remember all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and those whose holy lives are fulfilled already in heaven. Halloween was originally called All Hallows or All Saints eve. The frightening ghosts and goblins that now dominate this day were once the souls in need of our prayers so that they too could enter God’s kingdom of peace and happiness.
I love celebrating All Saints Day with the cathedral school community since they dress up as saints—with the design assistance of their parents and grandparents. Our youngsters learn about the saints through creating their costumes and in preparing for the day. Parents and grandparents beam with delight to see their youngsters depict Patrick and Peter, Kateri and Joan of Arc. Those costumes are helpful reminders for all of us of the importance of the Church’s saints—the well-known ones, the unnamed ones and those of us who are striving to join that heavenly chorus.
Advent is a season that does not usually get its proper focus because we all are too caught up in the business and commercialization of Christmas. However, Advent is the Church’s season of spiritual preparation for Christmas and eventually the Lord’s second coming. Advent invites us to prepare for more than just gift giving, special meals and parties. As we put on the somber color of purple and light the candles of the Advent wreath, we are asked to focus on the hopeful expectation of both the Lord’s first and his final entry into human history. We are to prepare our hearts to receive the greatest gift of all—Christ himself born as one like us in all things but sin.
These next few weeks may be given over to decorations, costumes and the familiar symbols of the seasons that are upon us. Let us try not to lose sight of the deeper mysteries that they are intended to recall in faith. Decorations and seasonal symbols should serve as helpful reminders of the presence of God in our lives.