Supermarket aisles are full of wigs, pointed hats and brooms. Halloween, the eve of All Saints' Day, is a time when children are encouraged to dress up as witches and ghosts. I'm no fan of 'Trick or Treat', an American import. This celebration of spooks and spiders, however distorted and commercialised, is nonetheless a development of an ancient tradition in the Church. Armistice Day, coincidentally celebrated in November, reinforces the message.
Our society is uncomfortable with death. Improved health care in the developed world means that most of us survive until old age. In practice, thought of death can be avoided. When death does intrude, it delivers a double shock: the loss of someone I love but also an unavoidable confrontation with my own mortality. I am going to die too.
There is a sign above the entrance to an Orthodox monastery on Mount Athos that reads: "If you die before you die then when you die you will not die." Similar words can be found in the Koran. We pray for our dead on the Feast of All Souls. Many parishes celebrate Masses for the dead throughout the month. But the month of November also reminds us of our own death. Each of us will die as sure as night follows day.
The central mystery of our faith involves a death, the death of Jesus. When we are baptised, we are baptised into his death. Every Mass is a celebration of the Lord's death. It is also a reminder of our own. The Gospel encourages each of us to take up our own cross daily. It is an invitation to 'die before we die'. The month of November provides a healthy but hopeful reminder that we won't live forever.