The Real (and Imaginary) Pagan Roots of Halloween
By Brian Saint-Paul
THE FIRST THING I NOTICED ABOUT JAY was that he was dressed like a woman. I also saw he was wearing combat boots and carrying a bag full of candy. But then I went back to that part about him being dressed like a woman.
Jay had always been a curious fellow. Like the time he lost his pet tarantula, sending the neighborhood kids into an arachnophobia that would last for generations. But Jay had outdone himself this time, standing at our door, dressed in what appeared to be an army nurse’s uniform, and slathered in enough makeup to make Tammy Faye Bakker wince.
Being a sensitive 9-year-old, I tried mightily to stifle my laughter (key word: tried), as I handed him a Snickers bar. Nevertheless, Jay was unfazed, marching off satisfied into the night, his candy bag a little bit fuller.
For many of us, Halloween is an anomaly: a celebration without a discernible purpose. Other holidays make sense. Labor Day offers some respite for workers, Veterans’ Day honors those who fought for their land, Presidents’ Day recalls those who have led our nation. Yet Halloween seems to do nothing more than guarantee a steady clientele for children’s dentists and give folks like Jay an outlet for exotic behavior.
A brief glance into the history of the celebration, however, raises a troubling question. Many Christians, when confronted with the pagan background of Halloween, wonder if it’s the kind of thing in which they should be getting involved. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that Christian bookstores (usually Fundamentalist) are full of inaccurate, sensationalistic accounts of the origins of the celebration.
Jack Chick, author of numerous anti-Catholic tracts, and hysterical Fundamentalist par excellence, gives his version of Halloween’s history in his tract, The Trick:
“[Halloween] came from an ancient Druid custom set up for human sacrifices on Halloween night. Druids offered children in sacrifices. They believed that only ‘the fruit of the body’ offered to Satan was for the ‘sin of the soul.’ The trick or treat custom was created by the Druids. “When they went to a home and demanded a child or virgin for sacrifice, the victim was the Druids’ treat. In exchange, they would leave a jack-o’-lantern with a lighted candle made of human fat to prevent those inside from being killed by demons in the night. When some unfortunate couldn’t meet the demands of the Druids, then it was time for the trick. A symbolic hex was drawn on the front door. That night Satan or his demons would kill someone in that house.”
There are about as many errors here as there are vowels. First, human sacrifice, despite the shrill claims of some, was rare if not nonexistent in Druid practice, and played no part in the Halloween tradition (Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, “Druids”). This goes for the candles “made of human fat,” as well.
Second, the Druids didn’t worship Satan. Theirs was a nature religion centered around the seasons, similar to modern day Wicca. Satan is a figure in Christianity, not paganism.
Third, the popular use of jack-o’-lanterns had absolutely nothing to do with the human sacrifice exchange program that Chick describes here.
So, with the fantasy aside, what’s the real history of the celebration? Halloween comes from the pagan feast of Samhain. From the evening of October 31 to the end of November 1, the ancient Celts would celebrate the beginning of winter and the conclusion of the harvest. During this time, it was believed, the curtain between the living and the dead was temporarily lifted, and the spirits of the past would roam the countryside, getting into mischief (Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, Jack Santino, University of Tennessee, 1994, XV). These supernatural creatures could be placated with edible treats or frightened off with bonfires and carved turnips. All the while, the people paid homage to Samhain, the god of the dead.
As time passed, the feast lost its religious significance and became the secular holiday we have today. It’s true, some of the old vestiges remain. Kids dress up like ghosts, goblins and Power Rangers, and go out looking for candy. The carved turnips have become pumpkins, and the bobbing for apples, an ancient method of divination, has become a popular party game. Nevertheless, October 31 is no longer widely held to be a day of religious observance.
So, how did the feast of Samhain become Halloween?
For hundreds of years, Christianity was persecuted by the pagan officials of the Roman Empire. Catholics were routinely rounded up and killed or tortured for the Faith. Over time, the persecutions ended and Christianity was recognized as a legal religion with the Edict of Milan in 313. A few years later, Catholics actually gained the upper hand, becoming the official state religion near the end of the fourth century.
With this new situation, the Catholic Church sought to demonstrate in a dramatic way the victory of Christ over the false gods of paganism. The old shrines were emptied of their statues of pagan deities, replaced with symbols of Christian worship. The temples became churches and the practices of the former religion either discontinued or Christianized. Finally, the holidays and feasts celebrating pagan gods were replaced with days recognizing the victory of the True God. One well-known example of this is Christmas, where the feast of the sun god on December 25 was replaced with a celebration of God the Son.
It’s difficult for us nowadays to appreciate the powerful statement this Christian-ization process communicated. Imagine if, in the most frigid days of the Cold War, the United States had been invaded and defeated by the Soviet Union. Destroying the Statue of Liberty certainly would’ve been a blow to the American people, but the Soviets had a still more dramatic action available: they could bedeck the statue in the red and yellow of the Soviet flag, replacing American symbolism with that of the USSR. What stronger way to demonstrate the victory of one system over the other? Such was the case with the Church’s conversion of pagan shrines, temples and holidays.
And so it was with Samhain. As Christianity spread throughout the British Isles, it encountered this strange celebration of the dead. Following in the tradition up to that point, the Church chose to replace it with a Catholic holiday.
So, by the ninth century, All Saints Day had become a feast-day to be celebrated by the entire Church. Instead of honoring the dead spirits of pagandom, All Saints Day was a time to remember the faithful Christian departed of past ages. In fact, according to Pope Urban VI, the day was intended to make up for any deficiencies in the celebrations of the various saints’ feast days throughout the year (Catholic Encyclopedia, “All Saints Day”).
The night before All Saints was known as All Hallows Evening, which became shortened to Hallowe’en. While Christians took part in the festivities of the evening before, the primary focus of the celebration was November 1, the feast of the saints. In this way, the pagan core of Samhain was stripped from the event, and replaced with solid Christian practice.
The conversion of pagan holidays is actually quite biblical. The Jews, under the direction of God, appropriated numerous pagan feasts: feasts of the New Year, combined with the harvest (Numbers 29:1-6; Leviticus 23:23-25), the feasts of the New Moon (1 Kings 20:4-29; Numbers 28:11-15; Nehemiah 10:33-34), grain and fruit harvest feasts (Deuteronomy 16:9-12; Exodus 23:14-16, 34:22) and the rite of new branches (Nehemiah 8:14-15). The people of God have often planned their Jewish and Christian celebrations to coincide with pagan feast days. Obviously, as the verses mentioned above indicate, God didn’t think this was corrupting true worship, or giving into paganism. So the Christian who takes part in Halloween and All Saints Day is just following in the footsteps of God-approved practice. No problem there.
A few objections are often raised at this point. A claim is sometimes made that Halloween is the most important day of the “Satanic calendar,” and that Christian participation is tantamount to taking part in the Devil’s high holy day. In fact, Jack Chick, in another one of his tract masterpieces, Boo!, says, “to Satanists and witches, Halloween is no joke. It’s their most solemn ceremony of the year.”
Bob (1951-2003) and Gretchen (1953-2014) Passantino, Evangelical Christians and experts on Satanism, reject this argument, pointing out that the Satanist’s own birthday is, to him, the most un/holy day of the year (“What About Halloween?” a paper produced by their ministry, Answers in Action).
Next, we’ll hear that Halloween so trivializes evil, demons and the devil, that they are reduced to mere fairy tales — imaginary beings used to frighten and titillate children. While the danger of this is certainly present, it nevertheless can be remedied by a good Catholic upbringing. We ignore the real existence of Satan at our own peril, for he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality of evil forces should be foundational in the catechesis of every Christian. We can hardly blame Halloween if it isn’t.
Far from being a threat to the Christian faith, Halloween actually provides an excellent opportunity for witnessing to it. On what other day is one’s attire the subject of so much attention? Imagine a group of kids going out not as Barney or some sports hero, but as their favorite characters from the Bible or Church history. An army of Davids, St. Marys and St. Josephs can make an awfully big impression at a costume party. Another possible avenue for evangelization is at the doorstep itself. Try handing out a good Catholic tract along with the candy (just don’t forget the candy part, or there might be rioting). As Catholics, we are called to use every opportunity to share the Gospel, “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).
In the end, the issue of whether or not to let one’s kids participate in Halloween comes down to personal discretion. The celebration in itself is fairly harmless: kids go out (under supervision, hopefully) dressed up as their favorite superhero/monster/politician and gather candy. Obviously, things can get out of hand. If a child wants to go trick-or-treating dressed as the Antichrist, it’s probably time to draw the line. This is where the parents’ guidance is essential. Nevertheless, whatever meaning Samhain used to hold as a pagan observance, it has no longer. Time has turned October 31 into a secular event, and Christians can take part with a clear conscience.
But we’re not done yet. Our brief look into the history of Halloween has uncovered some interesting dirt on the methods of some anti-Catholics. Numerous enemies of the Church charge that the Catholic Faith as a whole has been corrupted by paganism. Loraine Boettner, author of the odiously inaccurate Roman Catholicism, writes:
“After Constantine’s decree making Christianity the preferred religion, the Greek-Roman pagan religions with their male gods and female goddesses exerted an increasingly stronger influence upon the church . . . Many of the people who came into the church had no clear distinction in their minds between the Christian practices and those that had been practiced in their heathen religions. Statues of pagan gods and heroes found a place in the church, and were gradually replaced by statues of saints. The people were allowed to bring into the church those things from their old religions that could be reconciled with the type of Christianity then developing” (Roman Catholicism, Grand Rapids: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1964, p. 136).
Fundamentalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others argue similarly today in trying to demonstrate the alleged pagan corruption of Catholicism. In looking at the methods by which they reach their conclusions, three prominent errors are found again and again:
1. Their scholarship is often poor, making their conclusions largely or even completely inaccurate.
2. They assume that if a Catholic doctrine or practice is similar to a pagan one, the Catholic Church must have taken it from paganism.
3. They neglect the fact that some pagan practices (like Halloween) can be Christianized and used in the service of the Cross.
Let’s look at examples of each error.
Fundamentalists like Jack Chick aren’t exactly known for their academic excellence. Too often, they begin with a conclusion and then go looking for historical or Biblical confirmation. We saw an excellent example of this earlier with Chick’s history of Halloween. Critics of the Church will often misrepresent Her beliefs in order to show a connection between Catholicism and paganism.
Alexander Hislop, author of The Two Babylons: The Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife (Loizeaux Brothers, 1959), does this very thing with the Catholic understanding of justification. In order to link the Catholic Gospel with that of paganism, he wrongly claims Catholicism teaches one is justified by works in the chapter entitled, “Justification by Works”). Not content to merely misrepresent Catholic belief, he also lapses into some rather amusing blunders:
“Will any one after this say that the Roman Catholic Church must still be called Christian, because it holds the doctrine of the Trinity? So did the Pagan Babylonians, so did the Egyptians, so do the Hindoos [sic] at this hour, in the very same sense in which Rome does” (Ibid, 90).
Anyone with even a light familiarity with the pagan triads Hislop alludes to knows that they consisted of three different gods, not one God in three persons. The various pagan religions held a position very similar to modern day Mormonism, that there are three primary gods, distinct from one another in being, but joined in purpose. This is a form of polytheism, a view the Catholic Church has always condemned. Hislop’s statement that pagans held to the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity is laughable. This claim would, incidentally, also condemn as pagan the Trinitarian doctrine of Evangelical Christians and the mainline Protestant churches. Oops.
One error that occurs over and over again is the faulty assumption that a similarity between Catholic and pagan practices implies a connection between the two. Ralph Woodrow’s book, Babylon Mystery Religion, is full of such “parallels,” one of which links the roundness of the Eucharistic host to the roundness of the sun, which pagan Mithraists worshipped. Add to this the apparent sun beams shooting out of some monstrances and you have a fine example of Catholics inadvertently worshipping the sun god. (Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern, Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Inc., 1966, p. 121).
(Note: Interestingly enough, Woodrow has recently come out with a new book, The Babylon Connection, wherein he recants much of his former material, showing the inaccuracies in the first book. For this, he should be given much credit.)
This method of finding parallels, if followed consistently, ends up coming back to haunt those who use it.
For example, among some of the ancient pagan tribes of the middle east, there was a fascinating ceremony performed by the nomads. They would slaughter a lamb and smear its blood on their tent posts, so that those who slept inside would be protected from the destroying angel who came in the night (A Feast in Honor of Yahweh, Fides Publishers, Inc., 1965, p. 37).
Sound familiar? Of course, this ceremony bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Passover, where the blood of the pure lamb would be poured onto the door posts of the Jewish homes, so the angel of death would pass over onto the homes of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:1-13). According to the methodology of our Fundamentalist friends, this must mean the ancient Jews stole their Passover ceremony from the pagans. If Passover is corrupted by its apparent pagan origins, then down comes the whole notion of Jesus as the perfect Passover sacrifice. You see where faulty methodology takes us?
But there’s more. The famous comparative religionist, Sir James George Frazer, in his classic work, The Golden Bough, found some interesting similarities between Christianity and paganism. Apparently, numerous pagan religions have a god who dies and is resurrected. One notable example is the Egyptian god, Osiris, who is murdered, buried and resurrected from the dead (The New Golden Bough: A New Abridgment of the Classic Work, Sir James George Frazer, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961, pp. 183-185). Does this mean the Christian Faith derived its belief in the death and resurrection of its God from the pagan religions of Egypt? Of course not. Despite what some anti-Catholics would tell us, just because two beliefs are similar doesn’t mean there is any relationship between the two.
Another excellent example of this is the symbol of the swastika (also known as the gammadion). This symbol has been found to exist in the ancient cultures of India, Denmark, Greece, Belgium, Tibet, Gaul, Macedonia and just about anywhere else where people had hands with which to write. However, in each place, the symbol was understood differently. The meaning behind the swastika of the Third Reich is vastly different than that understood in ancient Tibet. Just because these cultures share the same symbol doesn’t mean they’re interrelated. Nazi Germany had very little to do with ancient India. We cannot, then, assume that just because Catholicism shares some symbol or practice with paganism, that the thing necessarily has a pagan beginning.
Still, while it’s true that some Catholic practices do have pagan precursors (we’ve already seen how the early believers Christianized the pagan holidays and temples, just as the Jews did in the Old Testament), this was born out of Christian victory over paganism, not compromise with it.
Additionally, there are other Biblical precedents for God endorsing the use of some pagan practices. Among the Jewish people, we see the casting of lots (1 Chronicles 25:8; 1 Samuel 14:40-45; Nehemiah 10:34) and the offering of water libations (1 Kings 18:33-36), both prominent in the paganism of the time (Maertens, 28, 72-74). If indeed God frowned upon any practice that was pagan in origin, He wouldn’t have prescribed them for His people. But, as the Bible proves, He did prescribe them.
For Christians, paganism is a dirty word, and it should be. Any religion that denies the One True God in favor of idols, nature-worship, or self-worship is a religion to be avoided. But this is all the more reason to bring paganism to the foot of the Cross. Jesus has won the victory over the false gods of this world, and so their practices and traditions should be brought into service for Him. Those who disagree do so in the face of the Scriptural and historical evidence. It’s time to let God use whatever means He wishes to further His own glory. Our God is sovereign, and He can do whatever He wants.
[N.B.: This article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 1998 edition of Envoy Magazine and is reposted here with permission of the editor of Envoy, who happens to be me.]
I must begin by telling you that I do not like to preach on Reformation Sunday. Actually I have to put it more strongly than that. I do not like Reformation Sunday, period. I do not understand why it is part of the church year.Reformation Sunday does not name a happy event for the Church Catholic; on the contrary, it names failure. Of course, the church rightly names failure, or at least horror, as part of our church year. We do, after all, go through crucifixion as part of Holy Week. Certainly if the Reformation is to be narrated rightly, it is to be narrated as part of those dark days.Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic.When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema.If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.For example, note what the Reformation has done for our reading texts like that which we hear from Luke this morning. We Protestants automatically assume that the Pharisees are the Catholics. They are the self-righteous people who have made Christianity a form of legalistic religion, thereby destroying the free grace of the Gospel. We Protestants are the tax collectors, knowing that we are sinners and that our lives depend upon God’s free grace. And therefore we are better than the Catholics because we know they are sinners. What an odd irony that the Reformation made such
readings possible.As Protestants we now take pride in the acknowledgment of our sinfulness in order to distinguish ourselves from Catholics who allegedly believe in works-righteousness.Unfortunately, the Catholics are right. Christian salvation consists in works. To be saved is to be made holy. To be saved requires our being made part of a people separated from the world so that we can be united in spite of — or perhaps better, because of — the world’s fragmentation and divisions. Unity, after all, is what God has given us through Christ’s death and resurrection. For in that death and resurrection we have been made part of God’s salvation for the world so that the world may know it has been freed from the powers that would compel us to kill one another in the name of false loyalties. All that is about the works necessary to save us.For example, I often point out that at least Catholics have the magisterial office of the Bishop of Rome to remind them that disunity is a sin. You should not overlook the significance that in several important documents of late, John Paul II has confessed the Catholic sin for the Reformation. Where are the Protestants capable of doing likewise? We Protestants feel no sin for the disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to confess our sin for the continuing disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to do that because we have no experience of unity.The magisterial office — we Protestants often forget — is not a matter of constraining or limiting diversity in the name of unity. The office of the Bishop of Rome is to ensure that when Christians move . . . (continue reading)
An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday . . .
The Lord’s descent into hell
“What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”
A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday
Almighty, ever-living God, whose Only-begotten Son descended to the realm of the dead, and rose from there to glory, grant that your faithful people, who were buried with him in baptism, may, by his resurrection, obtain eternal life.
(We make our prayer) through our Lord.
(Through Christ our Lord.)
Prepared by Pontifical University Saint Thomas Aquinas
Today, being the feast day of my beloved patron saint, Patrick, I post this for everyone’s edification and for the glory of the Triune God.
I bind to myself todayThe strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:I believe the Trinity in the UnityThe Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself todayThe virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.
I bind to myself todayThe virtue of the love of seraphim,In the obedience of angels,In the hope of resurrection unto reward,In prayers of Patriarchs,In predictions of Prophets,In preaching of Apostles,In faith of Confessors,In purity of holy Virgins,In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself todayThe power of Heaven,The light of the sun,The brightness of the moon,The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,The swiftness of wind,The depth of sea,The stability of earth,The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself todayGod’s Power to guide me,God’s Might to uphold me,God’s Wisdom to teach me,God’s Eye to watch over me,God’s Ear to hear me,God’s Word to give me speech,God’s Hand to guide me,God’s Way to lie before me,God’s Shield to shelter me,God’s Host to secure me,Against the snares of demons,Against the seductions of vices,Against the lusts of nature,Against everyone who meditates injury to me,Whether far or near,Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtuesAgainst every hostile merciless powerWhich may assail my body and my soul,Against the incantations of false prophets,Against the black laws of heathenism,Against the false laws of heresy,Against the deceits of idolatry,Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me todayAgainst every poison, against burning,Against drowning, against death-wound,That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,Christ behind me, Christ within me,Christ beneath me, Christ above me,Christ at my right, Christ at my left,Christ in the fort,Christ in the chariot seat,Christ on the deck,Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,Christ in every eye that sees me,Christ in every ear that hears me.
I bind to myself todayThe strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,I believe the Trinity in the UnityThe Creator of the Universe.
And now, here is the “back story” of this famous prayer, quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
St. Patrick learned from Dichu that the chieftains of Erin had been summoned to celebrate a special feast at Tara by Leoghaire, who was the Ard-Righ, that is, the Supreme Monarch of Ireland. This was an opportunity which Patrick would not forego; he would present himself before the assembly, to strike a decisive blow against the Druidism that held the nation captive, and to secure freedom for the glad tidings of Redemption of which he was the herald.
As he journeyed on he rested for some days at the house of a chieftain named Secsnen, who with his household joyfully embraced the Faith. The youthful Benen, or Benignus, son of the chief, was in a special way captivated by the Gospel doctrines and the meekness of Patrick.
Whilst the saint slumbered he would gather sweet-scented flowers and scatter them over his bosom, and when Patrick was setting out, continuing his journey towards Tara, Benen clung to his feet declaring that nothing would sever him from him. “Allow him to have his way”, said St. Patrick to the chieftain, “he shall be heir to my sacred mission.” Thenceforth Benen was the inseparable companion of the saint, and the prophecy was fulfilled, for Benen is named among the “comhards” or successors of St. Patrick in Armagh.
It was on 26 March, Easter Sunday, in 433, that the eventful assembly was to meet at Tara, and the decree went forth that from the preceding day the fires throughout the kingdom should be extinguished until the signal blaze was kindled at the royal mansion. The chiefs and Brehons came in full numbers and the druids too would muster all their strength to bid defiance to the herald of good tidings and to secure the hold of their superstition on the Celtic race, for their demoniac oracles had announced that the messenger of Christ had come to Erin.
St. Patrick arrived at the hill of Slane, at the opposite extremity of the valley from Tara, on Easter Eve, in that year the feast of the Annunciation, and on the summit of the hill kindled the Paschal fire. The druids at once raised their voice. “O King”, (they said) “live for ever; this fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished.”
By order of the king and the agency of the druids, repeated attempts were made to extinguish the blessed fire and to punish with death the intruder who had disobeyed the royal command. But the fire was not extinguished and Patrick shielded by the Divine power came unscathed from their snares and assaults.
On Easter Day the missionary band having at their head the youth Benignus bearing aloft a copy of the Gospels, and followed by St. Patrick who with mitre and crozier was arrayed in full episcopal attire, proceeded in processional order to Tara.
The druids and magicians put forth all their strength and employed all their incantations to maintain their sway over the Irish race, but the prayer and faith of Patrick achieved a glorious triumph. The druids by their incantations overspread the hill and surrounding plain with a cloud of worse than Egyptian darkness.
Patrick defied them to remove that cloud, and when all their efforts were made in vain, at his prayer the sun sent forth its rays and the brightest sunshine lit up the scene. Again by demoniac power the Arch-Druid Lochru, like Simon Magus of old, was lifted up high in the air, but when Patrick knelt in prayer the druid from his flight was dashed to pieces upon a rock.
Thus was the final blow given to paganism in the presence of all the assembled chieftains. It was, indeed, a momentous day for the Irish race.
Twice Patrick pleaded for the Faith before Leoghaire. The king had given orders that no sign of respect was to be extended to the strangers, but at the first meeting the youthful Erc, a royal page, arose to show him reverence; and at the second, when all the chieftains were assembled, the chief-bard Dubhtach showed the same honor to the saint. Both these heroic men became fervent disciples of the Faith and bright ornaments of the Irish Church.
It was on this second solemn occasion that St. Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock from the sward, to explain by its triple leaf and single stem, in some rough way, to the assembled chieftains, the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. On that bright Easter Day, the triumph of religion at Tara was complete.
The Ard-Righ granted permission to Patrick to preach the Faith throughout the length and breadth of Erin, and the druidical prophecy like the words of Balaam of old would be fulfilled: the sacred fire now kindled by the saint would never be extinguished.
Behind the scenes at the Envoy Institute’s Apologetics Summer Camp
I always look forward to some rest & relaxation during the summer months, and the past several summers have proven to be among the best opportunities I’ve had to do that in a long time. That’s because each summer I have the privilege of hosting a large group of eager Catholic teens, young men and women ages 15-18, at the Envoy Institute’s annual Apologetics Summer Camp, held at Camp Kahdalea in Brevard, North Carolina (www.CatholicApologeticsCamp.com).
These camps are a blast, and I’d like to take a minute to tell you all about them.
The whole week is fun and rewarding for me personally, what with daily Mass, the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the camp (which is nestled in the foothills of the Pisgah National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina), and enjoying the company of my colleagues, Envoy Institute team members, and the camp staff, especially the warm and wonderful Catholic couple who own and operate the camp facility, David and Anne Trufant.
But best of all is that I get to spend time with the young Catholics who attended the camp, helping them learn the basics of their Catholic Faith, teaching them the art of apologetics, and mentoring them on how to successfully explain and defend their Catholic beliefs when they get to college and move on into adulthood.
That in particular is a truly inspirational and energizing experience, for which I am grateful to the Lord. I should also mention that I also have a huge time white-water rafting each year with the kids. But that’s another story for another time . . .
In June, 2010, when I announced that the Envoy Institute had launched its new Apologetics Summer Camp, the reaction from Catholics who heard about it fell into two general categories.
The first was, “Wow! That sounds like fun. How do we sign up for that?”
The second was, “Wow! What a great idea. How come no one ever thought of that sooner? How do we sign up for that?”
Judging from the rave reviews we received from the young people who’ve attended our first three summer camps, as well as the reactions we received from many grateful parents, the Envoy Institute Catholic Apologetics Summer Camp sure does live up to everyone’s expectations that it be both fun, educational, and spiritually life-changing. And that’s great, because that was our goal.
We promise the young people a beautiful, peaceful, fun place where they can enjoy plenty of exciting summertime activities (you know, things like archery, hiking, rock climbing, high-ropes, swimming, campfires, whitewater rafting, and more), as well as deepen their love for Jesus Christ and their knowledge of the Catholic Faith. Please check out our camp picture gallery to see what I mean!
In addition to all the outdoor activities the Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camp offers, our campers all take part in the week-long series of apologetics seminars presented by some of America’s leading Catholic apologists and authors, including teachers such as Mr. Jim Burnham, Mr. Ken Hensley, Dr. Paul Thigpen, Msgr. Stuart Swetland, Dr. Benjamin Wiker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Mr. Steve Wood, Mr. Ken Davison, Mrs. Melanie Pritchard, and Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. I also teach several courses each summer.
Our faculty of fascinating and erudite presenters teaches the young people each year the basics of hands-on, real-world Catholic apologetics on subjects including:
- “Apologetics 101: A Crash-Course in Explaining and Defending Your Faith”
- “Keeping Your Faith While Earning Your Degree”
- “The Godless Delusion: How to Prove Atheism Is False”
- “Have You Been Saved? And Other Questions About Salvation You Will Be Asked in College”
- “How to Answer Society’s Misconceptions About God and Religion”
- “Faith, Science, Evolution, and the Catholic Church — What You Need to Know!”
- “How I Almost Lost My Catholic Faith in College, and How YOU Can Avoid That”
- “10 Bible Passages Every Catholic Should Know When Talking to Protestants”
- “The Catholic Church and the End Times: What the Bible Really Says About the Rapture, the Anti-Christ, and a Bunch of Stuff Like That”
- “Evangelization by the Ounce: 10 Small But Very Effective Ways to Share Your Catholic Faith”
The lineup of topics offered each summer changes, depending on our roster of speakers, but the above list will give you a good idea of the kind of teaching the young people receive.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the students who have attended our first 3 annual Apologetics Summer Camps were spell-bound by the presentations and by the lively, free-wheeling question-&-answer sessions the presenters had with them after each talk.
But rather than my telling you how the young people react to the Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camps, I’d rather let them tell you about it in their own words.
Here are just a few of the many comments we’ve received:
“This camp has been one of the most influential experiences of my life, for sure. I confess that my mom had to push me to come to this camp, and I wasn’t completely willing to come. But I am so glad I did. The speakers were amazing and spread their zeal and love for Christ and the Church to me and the other campers. This camp has inspired me and reawakened my love for God. . . . The memories will stay with me forever. Meeting peers who share my Catholic Faith has been such a blessing and I have forged so many genuine friendships. THANK YOU for this incredibly enriching experience!” — Anja
“It was wonderful to learn how to better defend my Faith and meet other committed Catholics. Everyone at the camp had a really fun time!” — Virginia
“There is no way for me to thank you enough for what you have given me and the rest of my new friends. This camp and the speakers have given me something that has and will strengthen my Faith and my love for God. The trips we took helped me to learn about myself and the love God has for me. I can guarantee that I will be back!” — Jonah
“This has been an awesome experience I will never forget. I have become strong in defending my Faith. Thank you again.” — Danitza
“Thanks for making this possible. The talks were profound and made a big impact. We had so much fun.” — John
“Thank you so much for giving us this amazing opportunity to grow in our Faith in the Church and in our love for Jesus. It has been an educational, mind-opening, experience — but most of all, FUN!” — Jesse
“I learned so much on how to explain my Faith this week! I’m actually excited to go home and share my Faith with all those who need to hear. Thank you again. I made so many friends.” — Emily
“I had a terrific and holy week! I can’t wait to start reading the books I received, written by the inspiring speakers I’ve been listening to.” — Reid
“I learned so much more about my Catholic Faith than I had ever known before. Thank you!” — Katie
“Thank you so much! It was such a blessing to be able to spend time with God and other like-minded Catholics in the North Carolina mountains. The talks were amazing and were filled with so much good information. I’m looking forward to going home and reading & studying my new apologetics books.” — Matthew
“This camp has truly been one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. It has helped me grow spiritually and allowed me to do so many new things.” — Bethany
“Thank you! The camp strengthened my faith as never before!” — Monica
“I have grown deeply in my love for Jesus Christ and the Church, His bride. Much thanks.” — Heather
Now, just imagine your teenager (15-18) learning how to explain the Catholic Faith more intelligently, defend it more charitably, and share it more effectively.
Sounds pretty good, huh?
Well, that’s not a “pie in the sky” idea, because the Envoy Institute’s Apologetics Summer Camp is here for you. Your kids will have a blast in the great outdoors, in a setting that’s close to heaven.
If you’d like to send them to our 4th-annual camp (August 8-14, 2013), please go to www.CatholicApologeticsCamp.com and check out pictures, informative video and other helpful info on the gorgeous camp Kahdalea.
Then, contact the Envoy Institute’s reservation department by calling 855-305-8982 (9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. EST, M-F) and reserve a spot for your son or daughter (or sons and daughters!).
Our booking representatives will be happy to provide you with all the information.
The Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camp is open to Catholic students ages 15-18. I lead the apologetics training, along with our superb team of experienced, qualified Catholic teachers. Apologetics books, informational handouts, and other reading materials are supplied to the students during the camp at no extra charge to the campers, as part of their camp tuition.
In between sessions, they’ll have ample opportunities to enjoy fun activities like whitewater rafting, rope climbing, hiking, archery, Ping-Pong, swimming, or just relaxing with a good book in the shade of a tree.
As you can imagine, now that the word is out about how great the Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camps are, you’ll want to act quickly and register your child(ren) as soon as possible, because we can only accommodate a maximum of 135 campers, and registrations for our 4th-annual (2013) Camp are filling up quickly. So, don’t delay!
God bless you!
Patrick Madrid, President and Founder
The Envoy Institute
Catholic Apologetics Camp
P.S. If you’d like to register your son or daughter (or sons and daughters) for this year’s camp, please act quickly! Call 855-305-8982 today (9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. EST, M-F) or make the reservations at www.CatholicApologeticsCamp.com. Thank you.
For at least the next month, we will be bombarded with a myriad of theories, speculations, and predictions about who will be elected the next pope. One name you will hear a LOT about in the coming weeks is Cardinal Tarcisio Pietro Evasio Bertone, S.D.B., who currently holds two important and powerful positions in the Vatican, Secretary of State and Camerlengo.
Already, the speculators and conspiracy-theorists are theorizing that Cardinal Bertone will be the next pope because, at least according to the dubious “prophecy of Saint Malachi,” the next pope after Pope Benedict XVI will be known as “Peter the Roman,” in part because his middle name, Pietro, is Italian for Peter. Some of these theorists are saying, Cardinal Bertone was “born in Rome.”
False. He was born in the Northern Italian town of Romano Canavese, in the Piedmont region, near the City of Turin.
Personally, I don’t buy into any of the hyped-up speculation about possible or probable papabili. My guess (and guessing is all anyone can do here) is that we will all be surprised by the election. For that matter, I’m not fazed by the speculation gyrations people are into right now. The Holy Spirit is in charge of this process and will write straight with the crooked lines we humans use.
So, all speculation and Saint Malachi stuff aside, I will point out something that I believe is a genuinely interesting factoid about Cardinal Bertone : Namely,that he is a Salesian of Don Bosco, and Saint Don Bosco, as you will recall, had a prophetic dream about a future pope who will guide the Catholic Church through a fierce storm of attacks into a respite of calm and peace.
In his dream, Don Bosco saw the Church as a great three-masted ship being moored securely between two towering pillars representing the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary. I think many Catholics today would agree that, however choppy the water may be right now, the Catholic Church seems to be headed straight into a dark and dangerous storm of gale proportions. Cardinal Francis George recently said as much when he commented prophetically that he expects to die in his bed, he expects his successor to die in prison, and he expects his successor’s successor to die a martyr’s death.
In several weeks’ time, once the new pope is elected, I may look back and laugh at this blog post. Very possibly someone completely unexpected will be elected (which, I tend to think is what will happen). And yet, for the moment at least, I am simply taking note of the fact that Cardinal Bertone is a Salesian, a disciple of Saint John Bosco. When it’s all said and done and we have our new pope, wouldn’t it be just a tad remarkable if the future pope whom Don Bosco saw in his dream turned out to be one of his own sons?
I had an oddly poignant experience on Twitter yesterday — I know, the last place you’d ever expect to encounter something poignant.
I was going through the list of people I follow and was removing those who are just trying to sell something, as well as all the self-proclaimed “marketing gurus,” “life coaches,” and political pundits. Just part of the necessary pruning and cleaning one occasionally must do in the world of social media platforms. Nothing new there.
But in the midst of this utterly banal chore, I came to the Twitter profile of Ginger, a Catholic woman whose profile picture I only vaguely remembered seeing before and whose posts I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. Opening her profile, I saw that her last several posts were from mid 2009 and were about her rapid decline from lung cancer. In one, she expressed how hard it was for her to deal with the shock of having just been diagnosed by her physician as “terminal.” A few posts later, her comment stream just . . . ended.
I Googled her name and saw that she died that summer, not long after her last post, mourned, no doubt, by many grief-stricken family and friends. She was only 41.
This brought back the sad memory of another Catholic woman I knew quite well and very much admired — a vibrant and vital young wife and mother of just 44 — who also died of lung cancer in September of that same year. A pang of melancholy rose up in me at that still-painful remembrance.
Gazing at Ginger’s picture, the mouse cursor poised over the “unfollow” button in her profile, I was moved by the realization that, even though she had died some time ago and I would therefore never see any further posts from her, still . . . by pressing “unfollow,” I would be, in a certain sense, letting go of her. It seemed strange that it should occur to me that way — after all, I never knew her personally. I was only aware of her existence through Twitter — a dim and superficial awareness of someone, to be sure. But still, there had been the slightest of connections there, albeit nothing more than pixels on a screen.
In that moment, an image from the movie Titanic arose in my mind; the one in which Rose is lying on a piece of floating debris holding on with one hand to the now dead Jack, almost entirely submerged in the frigid water. As she lets go of his hand, he sinks slowly into oblivion. True, those two were illicit lovers. In Ginger’s case, well, she was someone I had ever even met or spoken to before, much less known personally.
And yet, for a few brief, uncanny moments, my mind was pervaded by that poignant image of Rose letting go of Jack’s hand.
I pressed “unfollow,” and in so doing said a kind of electronic “goodbye” to a sister in Christ I never knew, except through the medium of an ephemeral, tenuous, and insignificant collection of pixels on my computer screen. And then, I said a prayer for the repose of her soul.
How strange, it seems to me, and how perfectly fitting at the same time, that the Lord makes use of even something as casual and (seemingly) inconsequential as Twitter to remind the members of His Body of their connection to each other.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.
(Originally published on February 2, 2011.)
UPDATE: About a month after I wrote this piece, I was speaking at a Catholic parish, and Ginger’s grieving husband came up to me to say how touched he had been to read it. We embraced. I can’t begin to explain how hearing his words made me feel.
Over the last 25 years that I have traveled around the country speaking at Catholic parishes I have had the occasion to listen to countless sermons from countless Catholic priests. Some of those sermons were limp and lackluster, a great many were quite good — rich in scriptural and practical wisdom and insights — and a few were so compelling that they remained in my mind. This sermon is one of those. Perhaps some of you will agree with me.
This sermon contains no flashy rhetoric. In fact, quite the opposite — the delivery is calm and sedate. But its content was electrifying. I know, I was present in the church, sitting in the back pew, and I saw how it caused everyone in the church to catch his breath (“can he really be saying these things?!”) and listen.
The uneasiness of the parishioners was palpable. I was actually surprised that no one got up and stormed out or stood and shouted defiantly at the priest. After Mass I told him, “I’ve been Catholic for 52 years now, and that was one of the most courageous sermons I have ever heard. Thank you for being willing to stand up and say what you said.” I was told that day by a parish staffer that there were many Catholic Democrats in the congregation. I wonder if this message will affect the way they vote in two weeks.
The priest is Father John Fitch. The church is Epiphany Cathedral in the Diocese of Venice. And the subject of his sermon is, of all things, politics. Politics and moral issues and how so many Catholics today have become more Democrat than Catholic and more Republican than Catholic. It’s a powerful message. I hope you’ll not only listen to it and think about it but also share it.
The disapproval many Protestants have toward the Catholic custom of displaying religious statues and images is fueled by a suspicion that Catholics must be engaging in idolatry by worshiping those statues (forbidden in Exodus 20:3-5 and Deut. 5:6-9). Take it from me. This misconception is far more widespread than you might think.
About 20 years ago, as I arrived at a suburban Chicago parish where I was to conduct an apologetics seminar that evening, I noticed a life-sized statue of Our Lady of Fatima prominently displayed on the rectory lawn.
Directly in front of her statue were three smaller statues of Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta — the children to whom Our Lady appeared. Their statues were kneeling in prayer, hands folded and heads bowed before the larger statue.
Turning to Karl Keating, who was in the car with me, I joked, “What a great religion Catholicism is! Not only can we worship statues, but our statues can worship statues.”
We chuckled at the absurdity of the thought.
I repeated this sarcastic quip during the seminar and, predictably, the Catholics in the audience laughed. Some folks, though, seemed puzzled by the laughter. The reason? As I discovered during the Q&A session, they actually believed that Catholics do worship statues. I had a good opportunity, then and there, to explain the biblical teaching about religious images in the Catholic Church.
The following explanation is excerpted from my book Does the Bible Really Say That? Discovering Catholic Teaching in Scripture (Servant Books):
Admonitions against idolatry appear throughout Scripture (e.g., Numbers 33:52, Deut. 7:5, 25, 9:12, 12:3; 2 Kings 17:9-18, 23:24; 2 Chron. 23:17, 28:1-3, 22:18-25, 34:1-7). In 1 Corinthians 10:14 St. Paulwrote, “beloved, shun the worship of idols (Romans 1:18-23).
God condemns the sin of idolatry, whether in the form of worshipping statues, or stock options, or sex, or power, or a new car, any thing as an idol. But He does not prohibit religious images provided they are used properly. For example, in Exodus chapter 25 God commands Moses to carve statues of angels.
“The LORD said to Moses . . . you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. . . . There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:1, 18-20, 22; cf. 26:1).
This shows clearly that there are circumstances in which religious images are not merely permissible but actually pleasing to God. Another example is the rather humorous incident described in 1 Samuel 6:1-18. In Exodus 28:31-34 the Lord commanded that Aaron’s priestly vestments be adorned with images of pomegranates. In Numbers 21:8-9 He commanded Moses to fashion the graven image of a snake that would miraculously cure poisonous snakebites (a mysterious foreshadowing of the cross of Christ [cf. John 3:14; 8:28]). And in 2 Kings 18:4, when the people began worshipping the bronze serpent, the King immediately destroyed it. What once was a legitimate sacred image had become an object of idolatry. (A cautionary tale for anyone tempted toward superstition or idolatry).
And notice what God told Solomon as he constructed the Temple: “’Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.’ So Solomon built the house, and finished it.” (1 Kings 6:12-12-14).
This statement is important because the Templecontained a vast number of statues and images including angels, trees, flowers, oxen, and lions (cf. 1 Kings 6:23-35, 7:25, 36). Solomon’s decision to include these religious images came from the gift of wisdom God had blessed him with (cf. 1 Kings 3:1-28). And far from being displeased by such images, “the LORD said unto him, I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually” (1 Kings 9:3).
Obviously, God would not have blessed Solomon and “hallowed” his temple filled with statues and images if He did not approve of them — further proof that images can be good when used to order our minds toward God and heavenly realities.
Remember too that St. Paulcalled Christ “the express image” of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). The Greek word here for “image” is eikonos, from which we derive the word “icon.”
Just as we keep pictures of our family and friends to remind us of them, we also keep statues and images in our homes and churches to remind us of our Lord, Our Lady and the Saints.
Additional passages to study:
1 John 1:1-3
Related Catechism Sections: