All of the preparations had been made, and as the setting sun gave way to the encroaching darkness there was nothing left to do but wait. A sense of anticipation filled the air and admittedly I was growing just a little impatient.
Though far from unexpected, I jumped to my feet as if surprised by the sound of the doorbell’s ring. Not knowing exactly who or what awaited me on the other side, I flung the door open confident that I had pretty much seen it all and was prepared for just about anything. Boy was I wrong.
There on my front porch was none other than His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI — all four-foot-two of him — with a crosier in one hand and a bag in the other.
“Trick or treat,” my little mitred visitor demanded, to which I burst out in laughter and dutifully handed over a candy bar.
At that my audience abruptly ended as the miniature pontiff hurried across the lawn, white robes flowing in his wake, determined to perpetrate the exact same extortion on my next door neighbors.
That was Halloween 2006 and to date that kid remains one of the most memorable Trick-or-Treaters we’ve ever had.
Of all the costumes that one sees on Halloween it is those of the Devil variety that make me shudder more than any other; not because they’re so real but precisely because they are not.
When I see small children running around in little red body suits with horns on their heads, a pitch fork in their hands and pointy tails in their trail, all to the delight of naive adults, I cannot help but marvel at how masterfully Satan has remarketed himself as nothing more than a fairy tale figure.
Since the close of Vatican Council II no small number of Catholics — priests, theologians, and educators among them — have downplayed the reality of spiritual warfare to the point of practically, if not explicitly, denying the existence of Satan and his minions who seek to destroy us.
By 1975 the problem had grown so serious that the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship moved to correct this grave error in a document most commonly known as “Christianity and Demonology.” Skeptics would do well to read it.
The relegating of evil spirits to the trash heap of medieval superstition, like most of the errors that came of age in the decades after the Council, can hardly be blamed on the Council Fathers. The Council documents mention “Satan,” “the Devil,” and “the Evil One” no less than eight times, including in the following warning:
“But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair” (LG 16).
Get that? “Final despair.” In other words, Hell is very real and so is its nefarious keeper.
Satan and those other spiritual beings who similarly exercised their will to rebel against God are constantly engaged in a battle with the forces of good; the ultimate spoils of which are nothing less than the souls of God’s people. It’s no joke.
Speaking of souls, what are Catholics to make of stories, also prevalent during Halloween, of ghosts and allegedly haunted places?
If by “ghost,” which is really just a Germanic word for “spirit,” one means a human person that is somehow trapped between the physical world and the afterlife, the answer in short is that we reject the very notion.
At death, every human being receives eternal recompense by Christ in a particular judgment, at which point there are but three possibilities for the soul; direct entrance into Heaven, temporary entrance into the purifying state of Purgatory, or eternal damnation in Hell.
Might God occasionally allow the souls of the elect, perhaps even those in Purgatory, to become manifest to us in some way in order for good? Sure, but given the finality of eternal damnation it seems very unlikely that a soul once damned could manifest to do us harm.
If ever a “ghost” or a “haunted” place is an authentic manifestation of spiritual malevolence it is the activity of those demonic beings that are aligned against God and His people, not the souls of the departed. In other words, it is the work of Satan — a real spiritual being bent on death and destruction, not just some cute polyester costume — and those other fallen angels that serve him in battle against the Lord.
I’ve no doubt that some who are reading this now are chuckling at the silliness of it all, but laugh at your own peril. As Pope John Paul II said, “The devil, the ‘prince of this world,’ even today continues his deceitful action. Every man is tempted by the devil, all the more when he is least aware of it."