All Hallows E'en

Do you get involved in Halloween? If you have children, quite possibly you do. Quite possibly you kitted them out as ghosts or goblins and let them go 'trick-or-treating'. Perhaps other people's kids knocked on your door and perhaps you have learned to have 'candy' around the place, just in case.

So far, I haven't been involved. I'm of a generation for whom Halloween, like Valentine's Day and basketball, was something that happened in America, and I'm enough of a grumpy old man to think that its arrival on these shores owes more to traders seeing a commercial opportunity than to anything genuinely traditional or cultural here. 'Bah, humbug!' and all that.

But whatever else Halloween is, it is 'the eve of All Hallows', the day before the Feast of All Saints which, with the following All Souls Day, marks the beginning of November, itself pre-eminently the season of prayer for the dead.

Anyone who has lived in northern Europe has a sense of why minds turned to thoughts of death in November. It is a miserable month when the sun only rises at 10 o'clock and has set by about four. The world itself is dying, as the trees shed their leaves and nothing grows. In the medieval past, too, it was the time when villagers were most likely to face the prospect of death, if the harvest had been bad or Spring was to come too late. So medieval people faced their demons quite literally. As they did with Mardi Gras or the Feast of Mis-rule or the Charivari, they almost taunted the things they feared. They played them out in their streets, almost provoking them to do their worst, and then they celebrated the Christian festivals that proclaimed the new order where, through Easter, All Saints, the good order of Christian society or marriage, the ancient forces of darkness, disorder and death had been overcome.

So there may be something to be said for Halloween, but not for Halloween by itself. To playfully recall the ghosts and goblins, reminding ourselves of mankind's ancient fears of death and darkness, but then to celebrate the triumph of the saints, which is the victory of Christ and our hope for 'all souls' – this may be a useful human dynamic. It's a bit like the buzz we got as children from briefly pretending not to know it was Dad behind the scary mask so that we could giggle and relax when the mask was pulled away and a laughing father was revealed. Kids will want that game played over and over, even though they know it's Dad. Somehow we like to play out fear and joy in quick succession.

In any case, in November we remember our dead. But we do not remember them as, perhaps, the world remembers fallen heroes or whatever, who will 'always live in our memories'. No, we remember them before God. We remember them when we are talking to God, and we ask God to take care of them, just as we might ask another person to pass on our love to some friend or relative who lives where they live. 'Please say or do such-and-such to Fred when you see him.' All Saints and All Souls remind us, if we need reminding, of our ongoing connectedness with those whom we no longer see.

On a different note, many Aurora readers will have followed the Royal Commission's recent public hearing into some cases of institutional child sexual abuse in the diocese and in Marist Brothers schools here. One of the very painful stories was that of Andrew Nash who, as a young boy of 13, died tragically in 1974. Br Peter Carroll, the present Provincial of the Marists, said in his statement to the Commission:

I want to acknowledge today, in public, that I accept on behalf of the Marist Brothers that all the evidence points to Andrew having been sexually abused and the evidence also points to Andrew having taken his own life.

Importantly, it is obvious that many things have been said about the circumstances of Andrew's death, some of which must be corrected. It has been suggested in some places that Andrew's death was a prank gone wrong involving a family member....To me, it is obvious that no member of the Nash family was involved in causing his death. Any suggestion that they were is completely wrong and hurtful to the family. These ideas must be totally rejected. Such comments have immeasurably compounded the family's pain and sense of loss.

I am grateful that Br Carroll took the opportunity to make such a clear and strong public statement. On behalf of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, I endorse and reaffirm what Br Carroll has said. I too deeply regret the pain the Nash family has suffered from the circulation of such unfounded accounts of Andrew's death as those to which Br Carroll referred. The Nash family has borne the loss of Andrew for over forty years. They should not have to bear the additional distress that arises from unfounded rumour or speculation. I also pray, and ask you to pray, for Andrew: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.

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Bishop Bill Wright Image
Bishop Bill Wright

Most Reverend William (Bill) Wright is the eighth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and is the pastoral leader of more than 150,000 Catholics in the region.

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