All Saints 2020: Happy Halloween!

Today’s reflection is for the Solemnity of All Saints, October 31, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

With this being a COVID year, I’m not quite sure how many kids will be dressed up like ghouls and goblins, witches and warlocks, superheroes, and the like, but I do know that this a beautiful and holy evening that has been hijacked by our culture, and Catholics would do well to take it back and practice the real meaning behind Halloween. 

The first reading comes from the last book of the Bible, where John is given a privileged glimpse “behind the veil,” and gets to see what’s going on in Heaven, even though he is still among those striving on earth. He sees more people than anyone could count! We hear the angel say, “These are the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” John sees the Saints in Heaven worshipping God. They made it. And we can too!

In 835 Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for All Martyrs, which would later be called “All Saints,” from May 13 to November 1. And that’s what we celebrate tomorrow! For nearly 2,000 years we see in the lives of the Saints examples of who God calls us to be, but also that God keeps his promise and grants eternal life to those who live good, generous, and holy lives. We see in these statues that surround this altar an earthly vision, of what John saw in Heaven that day. 

  And how do we become Saints? Well, like them, we die proclaiming Jesus to the world. We live holy and selfless lives. We tend to the sick and the needy, and we give up earthly wealth for a heavenly reward and eternal glory. The Saints of the Church are those who have been officially recognized to be in Heaven, and are among those who can both hear and take our prayers to Jesus who grants them.

But what about those who are in John’s vision of heaven who the Church has not officially recognized as Saints! What about our family members that are in heaven with God who hear our prayers and are among the heavenly multitude? On November 2, in 1048, a collective memorial called All Souls Day was added to our church calendar, and that beautiful and holy day is when we remember our family and friends who have died and gone to their eternal reward in heaven. 

Isn’t that beautiful? Our Church remembers. In the Scriptures the Apostles are identified by name. In our Eucharist prayer we call upon the Saints by name and we celebrate that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses at this holy Mass, this holy altar, this holy meal. At this altar heaven and earth come together with a kiss–which is why Fr. Manuel and I kiss the altar as Mass begins. Our Church remembers and makes Christ present; the Saints present, and those we love present. Our loved ones are never forgotten by God nor by us, his Church. 

We celebrate the holy Saints of the Church on November 1, and we celebrate the holy souls of the just on November 2, and that makes the evening before these two Holy Days a very Holy Evening. Did you know there’s an older term that is used for the word Holy and we say it when we say the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” Hallow is an Old English word that means Holy. So we could say that October 31st is a very Hallow Evening. And an abbreviation of the word evening is, e’en, like when someone says, “Good e’en.” And finally, when you put Hallow and e’en together, you end up with a very Halloween. A Holy Evening. Not the devil’s day, not mischief night, not even candy night–it’s the night when for a thousand years and more, we celebrate those Holy Saints of the church and the souls of the just who enjoy the presence of God that we look forward to. Far from the devil’s night, it is among the most holy nights of our year, or it can be–if we are intentional about it.

As a family we should be praying for our loved ones who have died and who undergo final purification in Purgatory, the cleansing before entrance into heavenly glory. We should be praying for those who have no one else to pray for them. We should be reading about the lives of the Saints and telling their story alongside stories of our own family who have passed from this life to eternal life with God. We go to the cemetery, visit and clean up the gravesites of those we love. The C.C.C. says that through the communion of saints “a link of love exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory, and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them all there is an abundant exchange of all good things” (#1475).

More than anything, we should think about how to get to where they are. We should reflect about the brevity of life and the importance of living right. Jesus tells us exactly how to do it, really. He said, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Strive for a pure heart. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are children of God.” Be the one who ends the cycle of violence. And “Blessed are you when they insult you because of me.” Live for Jesus. He promises that our “reward will be great in heaven.” The Beatitudes are Jesus’ roadmap for becoming holy and a Saint of the Church. There is no reason that anyone here should not one day be up here among these statues. Pretty cool thought, right?

Far from being the day of the dead, Halloween is the day of the living! A celebration of the Church triumphant, those holy souls who have received their reward, and who pray for us as we, the Church militant, continue to strive mightily to grow in holiness, cling to Jesus, and join them someday.


The folktale of “Jack o’ the Lantern” arrived with early Irish Catholic colonists in Maryland. It quickly grew in popularity because of the independent spirit admired in this country. Jack has the cleverness to outwit the devil himself, but it isn’t enough to get him into heaven (see box below). 

As you carve your pumpkin (or roast the oiled seeds at 325 degrees for 25 minutes), tell others the tale behind jack-o’-lanterns. Talk about what it means to be a saint and why Jack didn’t make the grade. Don’t be afraid to point out the “moral of the story” (which is why it was told in the first place). Jack was so self-centered he never helped another human being. He was given a good set of brains, but he used this gift only for himself. He knew about faith and the power of the cross, but he used it like a piece of magic instead of as the way of Jesus (see Luke 9:23). The cross is indeed strong enough to vanquish the devil. But embracing the cross is what brings eternal life.

The Tale of Jack O’Lantern

A Read-aloud Story from Catholic Update

Jack, the Irish say, grew up in a simple village where he earned a reputation for cleverness as well as laziness. He applied his fine intelligence to wiggling out of any work that was asked of him, preferring to lie under a solitary oak endlessly whittling. In order to earn money to spend at the local pub, he looked for an “easy shilling” from gambling, a pastime at which he excelled. In his whole life he never made a single enemy, never made a single friend and never performed a selfless act for anyone. 

One Halloween, as it happened, the time came for him to die. When the devil arrived to take his soul, Jack was lazily drinking at the pub and asked permission to finish his ale. The devil agreed, and Jack thought fast. “If you really have any power,” he said slyly, “you could transform yourself into a shilling.” 

The devil snorted at such child’s play and instantly changed himself into a shilling. Jack grabbed the coin. He held it tight in his hand, which bore a cross-shaped scar. The power of the cross kept the devil imprisoned there, for everyone knows the devil is powerless when faced with the cross. Jack would not let the devil free until he granted him another year of life. Jack figured that would be plenty of time to repent. The devil left Jack at the pub. 

The year rolled around to the next Halloween, but Jack never got around to repenting. Again the devil appeared to claim his soul, and again Jack bargained, this time challenging him to a game of dice, an offer Satan could never resist, but a game that Jack excelled at. The devil threw snake eyes—two ones—and was about to haul him off, but Jack used a pair of dice he himself had whittled. When they landed as two threes, forming the T-shape of a cross, once again the devil was powerless. Jack bargained for more time to repent. 

He kept thinking he’d get around to repentance later, at the last possible minute. But the agreed-upon day arrived and death took him by surprise. The devil hadn’t showed up and Jack soon found out why not. Before he knew it Jack was in front of the pearly gates. St. Peter shook his head sadly and could not admit him, because in his whole life Jack had never performed a single selfless act. Then Jack presented himself before the gates of hell, but the devil was still seething. Satan refused to have anything to do with him. 

“Where can I go?” cried Jack. “How can I see in the darkness?” 

The devil tossed a burning coal into a hollow pumpkin and ordered him to wander forever with only the pumpkin to light his path. From that day to this he has been called “Jack o’ the Lantern.” Sometimes he appears on Halloween!

30th S. 2020: Be Compassionate

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time, October 25, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

On Wednesday, I told the CCD kids about my next door neighbor who told her son, “Tell the truth, God is watching!” Today’s message is one of living the truth…because God is watching! The Jewish teacher, Hillel, who may have still been alive when Jesus was born wrote, “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah.” It reminds me of Romans 13:10, “Love does no evil to thy neighbor; hence, to love is to fulfill the law.”

That’s what Moses, tells the Israelites today. He says, “Hey, don’t give the immigrants a hard time–you were an immigrant once too! Don’t take that person’s cloak, their shoes, their blanket–it’s all they’ve got! Give the widows and orphans, foster and homeless youth, single mothers, the poor, the elderly, and others on the edge, a break! Their life is hard enough! 

It makes me sick to hear about those who harass and harm runaways and homeless. Their life is fragile and broken enough. And the unborn babies thrown away as though they were garbage–it’s disgusting, and all of it must stop. My brothers and sisters, our culture is sick. We’re losing our love and our decency, and God is watching. Our selfishness, greed, and vanity turns us away from others and has us looking only at ourselves. Moses says, if you wrong them, God is going to hear about it, and God is going to be heated. God says, “My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with a sword!” Yikes! I think we better pay close attention to how much God loves the most vulnerable and decide whether we’re a friend of God or not. We need to decide whose side we’re on–choose God’s.

As we look through the propositions on the ballot we ask ourselves, what lasting effect will this have on the most vulnerable, on the environment? Does this policy help those with wealth get more wealthy, or does it strip away the only cloak that a man has? We must appreciate that our public policy is either aligned with God’s kingdom or is at odds with it, and we have an opportunity in this country to vote and pass laws that make our country and world a better place for everyone–not just the fortunate few. 

I think we need to seriously question our own view, but also the attitudes or view of the company we keep, and especially about those who lead our country. Whose side are they on? Are they on God’s side? When we sit down at our table and vote we should write down the Great Commandment on a sticky note: Love God with all my heart. Love my neighbor as myself. Jesus tells us that “On these commandments hang all the laws and the prophets.” All laws boil down to just one: Love. Period.

I think the key is found in the last line of the first reading, “If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.” Compassion is defined as, “feeling or showing sympathy and concern for others.” But it’s much deeper than that. The root word of compassion is “passion,” and passion comes from the latin root “pati” which means “to suffer.” The passion of Christ is about Jesus’ love and willingness to suffer for us. The prefix “com” means “with.” You know, like when Portuguese people have pão com manteiga. So to have com-passion is to suffer with another.

The compassionate person doesn’t just see another in pain, he actually enters into that pain. He shares that pain. And because he shares their pain, he is moved to do something about it! If I see someone step on your toe, I might say, “Oooh! Too bad for you.” But if someone steps on my toe, I move it! Moses tells the people on behalf of God, if your neighbor cries out to me, I will hear him!” Because God is compassionate, God suffers with him. And God does something about it…remember that whole “sword thing.” God is not indifferent. God cares about how his people treat others.

When Catholics vote we want to focus on the love of God, the people that God loves, and the policies that affect them. Jesus loves the world and all who are in it. He gave his life for every soul…every soul. Those outside the womb and those still in it, the free and the brave, as well as the incarcerated and the timid. Jesus suffered and died out of love for the homeless, the hopelessly addicted, the single mother, and the family that has it all together and says their prayers every night. Jesus died for them all, and we’re called to create a just society for them all. When we talk about loving our neighbor we must be mindful of St. Pope John Paul II, whose feast day we just celebrated this past Thursday, he said, “Love wills the good of another.”

If we love our neighbor we desire what is good for him. If we love our neighbor, we cannot be indifferent to his suffering. If we have a choice about which policies to pass, we vote for those propositions that do the most good for the most vulnerable. And when we vote for people who pass laws, we must vote for those who are on the side of Love.

I once heard that I should insert my name into 1COR 13 to see if it’s true of me, “Steve is patient, Steve is kind.” I think it would be a good practice to put the presidential candidates in there as well, and see if it’s true. “____ is patient, ____ is kind, ____ is not jealous, ____ is not pompous, ____ is not inflated, ____ is not rude, ____ does not seek his own interests, ____ is not quick-tempered, ____ does not brood over injury, ____ does not rejoice over wrongdoing, ____ rejoices with the truth.”

There are no perfect policies, politicians, or parties, but there are better policies, better politicians, and parties that better reflect the will and love of God. Choose those so that His kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

“We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: a good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern.” – Pope Francis, 9/16/13

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship

29th S. 2020: To Caesar and To God

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time, October 18, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

St. Basil the great said, “It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God would not be violated.” I often hear that the Church should stay out of politics…but as we begin today I want to remind you that “the Church” is not a building, but a people, and we are those people: 1. Christian 2. Citizens–both–one and the same, advancing God’s kingdom, ensuring that “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s no wonder St. Thomas would say, “Human government is derived from the divine government and should imitate it.”

As ballots pour in, as signs go up, and parades roll out, our Church invites us to consider Jesus’ approach to politics. Jesus tells the Pharisees and the Herodians, “Render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what it Gods.” With respect, many Christians and non-Christians alike, might wrongfully conclude that what Jesus is arguing for here is a separation of Church and State. Of course, there was no such thing in Jesus’ day, and it would not exist for centuries.

The invocation of the separation of Church and state has as its goal the removal of God from politics entirely. The removal of God from public life entirely. The removal of God from our schools, our public squares, and our places of business. There are those who would like to see God and religion reduced to the shadows. But what then is left? Only practical atheism in our schools, in the marketplace of ideas, and in our businesses. God is truth. God is love. God is justice. God is mercy!

How convenient–a country with no room for God! A country with no truth, no love, no justice, and no mercy! Where only those who have no religious conviction are allowed to share their opinion. Where only those whose view has no God as it’s source can speak. Where lawmakers have to somehow check their religious views and values at the door. Where leaders are supposed to make decisions that are not informed by virtue, and holiness, goodness, and eternal truths. This is madness, and it’s wrong.

This IS NOT a country that I want to live in. It is NOT the country that I fought for, and it is not the country that our forefathers founded. Our country declared its independence with the words, “that all men are created equal, that are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” We declared independence because the rights that God gives his children were being trampled upon! That’s God and politics right there! 

The First Commandment is to love the Lord your God. The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution is that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There are two clauses there – congress will not establish a religion, and congress will protect our right to freely exercise our religion…as a citizen! We are not expected to check your faith at the door in this country. Our founders didn’t and didn’t expect us to either! 

This is what Jesus means when he says to render to both caesar and God. We, body and soul, live out our Christian life in this world. All authority, in heaven and on earth comes from God. And to the degree that earthly government is aligned with that of heaven, as St. Basil says, we must be obedient, because our obedience is to the good, wherever it is found. 

Jesus said pay the tax, for crying out loud! The coin, the denarius, paid the census tax. It was a day’s wage for every man, woman, and slave age 12-65. That tax paid for the privilege of enjoying the benefits and security of living in one of the greatest empires the world had ever known. A small price to be sure. Hey, pay the tax already! 

And make sure that the government who spends that tax spends it in a way that honors and glorifies God – with a concern for the rights and dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. That recognizes the needs of families and their right to participate in community life. For an awareness that people have basic rights and that governments have a responsibility to respect them. That in policies, we must be mindful of the poorest among us, the dignity of work, and the rights of workers. We need government that believes in one human family and seeks unity among people on the streets, in the nation, and among nations, and that embraces the truth that we are stewards of God’s creation and have a responsibility to protect it, sustain it, and ensure clear air, clean water, and a healthy climate for future generations. 

I want to cringe every time I hear, “Well, I wouldn’t do that, but I can’t impose my view on others.” or “I think that’s wrong, but I don’t think it’s right to tell other people what to do.” Yes we can impose our view! We can tell other people they’re wrong! And should! Every law that has ever been passed is because something was wrong and people don’t want other people to do it! Traffic laws, criminal law, social law–all of it is passed because someone thought it was wrong and that no one should do it. “I mean, I wouldn’t drink and drive, but I can’t say that others shouldn’t do it.” “I wouldn’t kill someone, but who am I to impose my religious view on others.” We can. We should. We must. Make no mistake, someone’s views and values will be imposed. Laws will be passed. Either by God’s people or by those who claim no God.

The role of the Church is not to tell us what to do, it’s to remind us of who we are. What we believe. And that we must courageously act on that belief in every part of our life – to Caesar and to God.