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Halloween. All Hallow's Eve. The Night before a beautiful feast in the Catholic Church. As I sit here reading the readings for All Saint's Day I am struck by how much I just do not enjoy this day at all. I could go on and on about all the problems with Halloween. From the commercialism, to the consumerism, to the gluttony; to the problems with how it has been taken over by the secular world to become a 'gore' and 'blood' fest where the major event is to be scary and gross. There are so many reasons to dislike Halloween. Yet none of those are the reason. I have even been known to enjoy putting on a scary mask and scaring people, or to watch a horror movie (though I find a good horror movie is hard to find without some sort of pornographic content or simply a gore fest these days.)
No the reason I dislike Halloween so much is today is the day my father was electrocuted. My father died. Through some intense CPR they managed to get his heart beating. He survived. For a time longer than most can recover without brain damage, my father was clinically dead. I was very, very young at the time. I do remember Dad didn't want to go to work that night. He had an off feeling. Like the man that I have always known, though, his work ethic would not allow him to stay home. Not over a mere feeling. So he went into work. A transformer had mal-functioned causing main line voltage to cross into the low voltage disconnect on a mineshaft fan. So when my father went to work on it, not a simple 120, or 240, or even 480 went through his hand. No, several thousands of volts went into his hand. Then they went out his arm. Then out the back of his neck, into the roof of the mine shaft.
My father by all means should be dead. Praise God he is not. We kids didn't understand what was going on to be sure. My brother and I were shielded from the brunt of the horror. All we knew was that dad wasn't around for a while. I remember brief glimpses of the hospital. Then I remember times when we went to Rita's house instead of moms. I am sure so she could visit him. Eventually dad came home. I can remember glimpses of playing chess with him. Of helping change his bandages. Of smelling the flesh and stuff. I am sure most of that is in my head. What I remember the most though was the intense joy of having my father home.
Today in the gospel Jesus says in his great beatitudes, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted." I understand that on it's literal level. When we mourn, it seems like life has ended. Our hearts feel as if they will never be healed. Things come back though. Laughter. A smile. A father. They restore us to the joy we sometimes think we'll never see again. Our darkness eventually gives way to light. I think though, as with all of Jesus' words we must go deeper. In fact, Pope emeritus Benedict the XVI used too very solid examples of mourning to express a simple truth about this. There were two people who mourned in the New Testament writings, but both of them responded in completely different ways.
Judas Iscariot, the traitor, mourned. When he saw that Jesus had been turned over to be crucified he repented of what he had done. He ran back to the temple and threw the silver at the feet of the chief priests and elders, crying out that he had betrayed innocent blood. They did not care. Judas gave up hope. His response was to end his life. How many over the centuries have done just this? We've seen it more and more often with our children, our veterans, our loved ones. They lose hope. They give up. They take their own life. It hurts all of us. We mourn for them.
Peter on the other hand, too betrayed Jesus. For all his bravado when push came to shove, Peter denied him three times. He ran form the courtyard mourning, crying, broken.... Peter too repented of his deed. Peter though, allowed God's hope to permeate him. He allowed grace to draw him through his mourning. Until one day, still in sorrow, he heard the voice of the Shepherd calling from the shore. Peter dove out of the boat and swam with all his might to the shore, to be told three times (once for each denial) Feed my sheep.
You see mourning can destroy us. It can take us down a road where there is no hope. We can allow it to eat at us bringing a turning of our back to God, to the world, even to ourselves. As Benedict said, there is a mourning that "no longer dares to hope." Then there is the other response we can have to mourning. A mourning that "bursts into healing tears" through which ourselves can be renewed. We can allow those events to ruin our lives all together. We can forget to allow God's mercy to flow through us. Sometimes we even do that with his forgiveness. We let the devil convince us that he won't forgive us, that we have done something too bad.. or too often... or too willingly. We avoid confession and avoid running back to God. We hear him calling from the shore.. waiting to forgive us and challenge us to love Him and His body. Are you going to jump out of the boat? Or are you going to huddle and wallow, no longer daring to hope?
His servant and yours,