Eschatology is the area of theology that deals with death, judgement and the final destination of human souls. An overview of the Catholic understanding of death is that when a person dies they face a particular judgement. Upon death, a person is judged for heaven; either through purification (Purgatory) or immediately, or to eternal damnation.
I am finding that the modern world seems to have lost its bearings when it comes to “The Last Things.” The existence of hell is often denied and dismissed, purgatory is entirely forgotten, and we assume that everyone is destined for heaven. We have removed sin from the equation when it comes to death because it is uncomfortable, and often unsettling. If we face our sin it requires self-examination and contrition. It asks us to make an active choice to turn away from sin and toward God. And conversion is hard.
The Catholic Church, understanding the importance of “The Last Things,” set a place for them liturgically in what we now know as Halloween, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. All Saints and All Souls are the official days the Church celebrates and remembers those who have died in a state of grace and are headed toward Heaven, either immediately or first via Purgatory. Halloween is an unofficial day to remember the souls who have died and are not bound for Heaven, but are instead damned. It also serves as a much-needed reminder for us that hell is real.
Fans of The Usual Suspects will have heard this quote: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” I think this rings true for a lot of our society. By and large, our culture has accepted that the Devil isn’t real and, more importantly, neither is hell. When we lack a healthy fear of hell, we allow sin to seep into our psyche and it becomes something to be embraced.
The secular world glorifies evil and entertains it without the necessary fear and turning away. Perhaps more tragic is the Christian counter-reaction to simply ignore the existence of evil. The danger of a world that glorifies evil is mostly apparent. But the subtle dangers of a world that denies that evil exists might be more detrimental to our souls. In denying evil we have lost sight of what it is we are battling.
Some of this plays out in the treatment of Halloween in the culture. Halloween has become a holiday to embrace the dark and the evil and the occult, or more and more to make evil sexually appealing. And, the Christian counter-response is to shun Halloween altogether.
Both extremes miss the mark.
It is important to face our mortality, to be confronted with the consequences of unrepentant sin. I think it is good to be afraid, to have a healthy fear of eternal damnation. It is important to recognize the ugliness of evil, especially from a young age. It is good to see what evil looks like and to know all the more that evil has already been conquered in Christ. Halloween as a popular devotion is the perfect visual way to introduce our children to these concepts. Fight the loss of eschatology by letting kids get a little scared at the thought of evil and hell, by showing them it is real, but that in Christ we have the great hope of All Saint’s and All Souls instead.
Copyright 2017 Amanda Torres