This is a weird time of year. I remember Ned Sherrin on BBC Radio 4 welcoming Guy Fawkes Night (5 November – commemorating the attempt by Guido Fawkes and his mates to destroy Parliament in 1605) by saying that at least we had got past the spooks of Halloween and could now get back to the real business of burning Catholics. This, of course, was a response to the complaints by Christians about the commercial and cultural promotion of Halloween with its demons, devils and death. So, we have our bonfires and fireworks and forget what lies behind it.
Well, perhaps this year it is worth remembering. I heard this morning that the Vatican has warned against the dangers of Halloween and its association with all the spooky stuff. It might help if, instead of complaining, the Church worked positively at explaining that Halloween is a Christian festival that forces escapists to take seriously human mortality and questions of the meaning of death and beyond. Many churches will be celebrating ‘Bright Lights’ parties that hold together All Souls and All Saints and keeps the integrity of the two.
But, I think we can go one better. A couple of weeks ago the Pope very kindly offered to take some disaffected Anglicans into his fold. Today we would like to make a reciprocal offer to help his Church out over Halloween.
Today might be Halloween in the UK, but in Germany it is Reformation Day – the celebration of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg in 1517 and setting off the Reformation in Europe. Three years ago I was in Wittenberg with the Archbishop of Canterbury and some others. The German Protestant Church (EKD) is going through a serious Reform Process which is intended to change the church and fit it (in the spirit of reformation) for the 500th anniversary of Luther’s action in 2017. I asked if the Roman Catholic Church would be involved in the celebrations in 2017 – and I didn’t get a clear answer. So, I wondered aloud if the RC Church would be celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s ordination to the Catholic priesthood in 2007.
Er… no answer was forthcoming. Which was probably wise.
But it was a serious question – to do with how we cope with our histories and the bits we find uncomfortable. Do we just pretend they didn’t happen and wish they would go away? Just think of the damage such escapism or denial does in the life of an individual.
Anyway, I would like to offer the Vatican a way out of the Halloween conundrum. The German Pope Benedict could drive this with good reason and great credibility: celebrate Reformation Day, remember a difficult history and then link it all in to All Souls and All Saints.
I can’t see a downside.