They had forecasted rain but our green earth was covered in a dome of startling blue. It was that piercing blue that winter moisture seems to bring, an indescribable clarity, the haze stripped away. So as we headed for San Francisco to visit our sister parish of Saint Thomas’ I felt especially blessed, driving up the curved span of Bay Bridge into the sky, descending to the idyllic city, watching the skyline of spires stretched along the water’s edge crystallize in my vision.
Saint Thomas’ church is the size of a Romanesque chapel with white walls, green marble tiles covering the floor, a gentle dome over a slab stone altar and French tabernacle. The acoustics are remarkable, the choir talented, the organist superb. Indeed, I believe they have become known for their music. Through skylights the sun shafts upon the sanctuary brightening the whites and in this light space we sang hymns about the saints, for it is All Hallows Eve, or as is commonly known, Halloween.
For Halloween derives from the vigil of All Saints, the great feast that we celebrate tomorrow, the festival of saints, past, present, and future, joined in time. In pagan cultures, October 31 represented the end of the summer harvest and, with the coming of long nights and short days many believed the spirits of their dead roamed the earth this night. They left food out for them and lit bonfires to scare them away. With the rise of Christianity and the promise of heaven, they were no longer afraid of such ghosts. As the Church did with many other festivals throughout the year, it baptized the pagan with the Christian by making the following day a celebration of all saints, and the day after that, November 2, a celebration of all souls. It is thought that trick-or-treating evolved from the poor walking from house to house asking for food, carrying a candle in a hollowed-out turnip to light the way. One can see how costumes were part of the old idea of scaring the ghosts away.
We sang For all the Saints… and the lovely children’s hymn, I sing a song of the saints of God… and Archbishop Provence, standing thoughtfully in the center of the aisle, spoke to us about the costumes we wear to hide our true selves. Since that fall from grace in Eden, we desire to be what we are not, to hide behind what we think we want to be, should be, are told to be by our culture. In our confusion, we wear our masks and Christ peels them away, layer by layer, until we truly know ourselves in his love. How does he do this? Through the Church, through the sacraments. Through baptism which grafts us onto his body, the Body of Christ, the Church. Through confession of sin, the many falling-aways from the rule of love, the rule of God, in the days, hours, minutes, and seconds of our lives, and God’s forgiveness. Through the Eucharist, where we unite with Christ and are nourished in body and soul.
Who are we? Who am I? It is a question we ask from the moment of birth, and as we journey through our span of time we struggle to make sense of our world, our lives. With the coming of Christ, we begin to learn the answer. We are made in the image of God. But our wrong turns take us away from him, and as we distance ourselves we hide his image within us. We cover ourselves and try to become something we are not. Just like Adam. Just like Eve.
I have found as I move from Sunday Mass to Sunday Mass with occasional weekday ones as well, that the sacred liturgy pulls me into a kind of clarity, a self-knowledge, as though meeting Christ in the Bread and Wine shows me more of who I am meant to be. It is a delirious feeling, to be loved like that. So I return again and again, meeting him in this way. No costume, no mask, just me. And I pray, thank you, Lord, and thy will be done. And I begin my list of intercessions for those I love and those I have trouble loving.
Certainly the saints know themselves in this way. For they are men and women filled with God, and his love runs through them, pouring out to others. For, as our preacher said this morning, we cannot love God without loving man first.
We left Saint Thomas’ and stepped into the crisp mid-day, the dome of blue arching in its stunning clarity, and I gave thanks for a glimpse of who I am meant to be. Someday, in heaven, I will be that person. In the meantime, I give thanks for the saints, and for All Hallows Eve, a reminder of who we are not meant to be, a reminder to peel away our masks, to know God, and thus to know ourselves, to become sanctus, holy.
And tomorrow I shall go to Mass to celebrate the great Festival of All Saints.