Sister Edith as Darth Innumerator flanked by two anonymus sisters
By Sister Edith Bogue firstname.lastname@example.org
"It's too bad you Sisters can't have any fun for Halloween," a student said. "My brother's going to be Harry Potter and my little sister wants to be Cinderella, and our front yard has tombstones and ghosts ... You must really miss it."
If only he knew! The Sisters don't have children, but can still enjoy the season. The little kids from the Benedictine Early Childhood Program dress up and visit us - always cute! Candy corn or a giant pumpkin or scarecrows may appear in our dining room. And some years, we have a Halloween Party for ourselves.
Sister Martha makes a very elegant Statue of Liberty -I wish I could find a photo! Sisters who teach in elementary schools often have real costumes - angels, clowns, or storybook characters. The rest of us scrounge through our closets and arrive as hobos, Wall Street executives or - my favorite - Darth Innumerator (he zaps your numerical ability with a single glance; one of the Stat Wars villains). Pretty tame by secular standards -no one comes as Cleopatra - but plenty of fun. So much for the stereotype that a sister's life is nothing but ora et labora, prayer and work!
But my friend did have a point. For Benedictines, Halloween is peanuts compared to the next two days. November 1 is All Saints Day - the "All Hallows" from which Halloween ("All Hallows Eve'n") got its name. While the Catholic Church celebrates dozens of saints on particular days, All Saints is different. It is dedicated saints both KNOWN and UNKNOWN. It's a very old celebration - St. Ephrem mentioned it in a homily in the year 373.
How could there be unknown saints? The earliest were martyrs swept up in the persecutions of the late Roman Empire - so numerous that their names were not known. Over the centuries, another kind of unknown saint was recognized: ordinary people, feeding the poor, taking in orphaned children, sheltering refugees, or patiently keeping faith even in difficult circumstances.
"The only thing that matters is to be a saint," wrote Leon Bloy. All Saints Day has two kinds of joy: the celebration of the great saints we know about, and the secret hope that some neighbor, some friend, maybe even - dare we think it? - we ourselves might grow into that quiet holiness.
All Souls Day follows, filled with prayer and remembrance for those who died this year. When the Sisters arrive for Morning Prayer on November 2, photos of our deceased sisters greet them. We remember them and pray for them throughout the day. Just before 5PM, the bell will toll as at a funeral. An oil lamp for each of them is solemnly carried into the Chapel at the start of Evening Prayer. The lamps burn on the altar as we pray together with our departed sisters one final time. In the quiet, we can feel their spirits with us.
Do we miss out on Halloween? Not at all - we celebrate all three days of it!