Tomorrow is Halloween, the day before All Saints Day. There's a cartoon on a bulletin board at St. Andrew's, Northford, that shows a bishop with miter and crosier starting toward an Episcopal Church beside a sign that says, "All Saints Day--Bishop visits".
Two kids on bikes are near him. One says, "Hey, dude, great costume!" The other says, "doesn't he know Halloween was yesterday?"
In the Celtic world (which exists only in patches though it used to cover all the British Isles, some of France and some of Scandinavia) the end of October and the beginning of November is 'a Thin Time' when the barrier between this world and the next is permeable and can be crossed. The dead wandered the earth in the Thin Time. Once Christianity came, lo and behold, All Saints day fell into the Thin Time, so on All Hallows Eve, those from the other side of life came through the gauze between the living and the dead and wandered the streets looking for gifts.
That's where trick or treat and the costumes came from. All Hallows Eve shortened into Halloween and ghosts are among us.
I hated it as a child. I had 300/20 vision and couldn't wear my glasses under the masks and there were few streetlights and people ran by making spooky noises and I was terrified though I did like the candy the next few days.
In Latin cultures the big day is November 2--All Souls Day--a day to remember all the dead. For folks in Central and South America they have picnics beside graves of loved ones and believe they commune with those who've gone before.
A thin time in either case--a time to be aware of how porous the barrier really is.
I use these days to remember those I love but see no more. A Thin Time for me--Celt to the core.
My Mom and Dad, all my Aunts and Uncles, several cousins, and a lot--I mean 'a lot' of folks I served as a priest by celebrating their passing over.
I averaged nearly 50 funerals a year at St. John's in Waterbury. Since I was there 21 years that may be close to 1000. Many of them I didn't know at all or only slightly. St. John's was one of those down-town churches people 'thought' they belonged to. So I did many of those funerals! But I celebrated the lives on many, many people I loved and mourned deeply.
Such is the lot of a priest. And not a bad lot by half. It is a humbling honor to be with someone on that last journey. I told the 25 or so seminarians I worked with over the years that funerals may be the most important thing a priest does. I believe that and have lived out of that my whole priesthood. I hope some of those I mentored agreed with me.
Since it is the eve of All Hallows Eve I'll go search for a chapter of my book (not published) about my priesthood and death. The title of the 'manuscript', since it's not a book really, is "Tell the Story, Tend the Fire, Pass the Wine"--which is my definition of what a priest 'does'. "Being" a priest is the essence of priesthood--but a priest 'does' some things: he/she tells the story of the family, keeps the hearth burning and celebrates the sacraments.
Look for the next thing if I can find it and figure out how to post it....
And, Happy Halloween!
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- Is there life after funerals?
- The eve of All Hallows Eve
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