According to ancient Judeo-Christian tradition, the Sabbath begins as the sun sets and darkness descends upon the eve of the day that follows. So Jews gather in synagogues and temples on Friday evenings while Catholics gather for the Saturday evening vigil to mark their Day of the Lord. Similarly, kids originally dressed up as saints on Halloween to mark the beginning of All Saints Day. Costumes of saints, dead to the earth but alive in Christ, along with other celestial beings, lit up the feast day, but they were later preempted in the All-Halos-Eve darkness-before-the-dawn-ritual by costumes of other dead souls: ghosts, goblins, ghouls… As the days of the dead in late October and early November advanced, trick-or-treaters went beyond death to their own dreams and fantasies, donning costumes of princesses and superheroes.
From the time that we are little kids, we have fantasies of who and what we might become. The part of our brain and soul that dreams and imagines can turn us into cowboys or firefighters, models or actresses, rock stars or divas, beauty queens or major league MVPs. As adolescents and teenagers we have fantasies that exalt our popularity and/or achievements; they glorify which social group we’ll hang with or whom we’ll date or marry. We might own our imagined role to the point of practicing our touchdown dance, valedictorian speech, or humble reception of the medal of honor. We might fantasize about which college, fraternity, sorority, career, or company is wanting us to join them.
Fantasies are generally healthy but they can also be destructive. When we fantasize about riches, fame, or fortune, it can take us down paths of selfishness, self-importance or self-indulgence. This is the opposite of reflective prayer that should lead to self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-betterment. Similarly, sexual fantasies can lead to pornography and cycles of addictive thoughts and behaviors. But fantasies can also enhance spiritual development. Many saints and mystics, from Joan of Arc to Ignatius of Loyola, used imaginative prayer to grow closer to God. From her childhood, Joan possessed a warrior spirit. Through fantasy or imaginative prayer, God directed her; and she responded by delivering victories in earthly battles. She eventually recognized that this was merely a bridge to heavenly triumphs. As a young man, Ignatius had fantasies of conquests as a soldier and romantic. Through his experiences, he realized that some of his fantasies brought pleasures that were limited—in this world and to this world—while others brought happiness that point beyond this world. By way of discernment, he was able to navigate which paths were healthy and holy verses which ones were diminishing and despairing.
Author Phyllis McGinley, in her book, Saint-Watching, wrote: “When I was seven, I wanted to be a tight-rope dancer, until I broke my collar-bone practicing. At twelve, I planned to be an international spy. At fifteen, my ambition was the stage. But now, in my sensible, declining years, I would give anything to be a saint.” Her insight helps us to understand an important aspect of these annual days of the dead, from Halloween through the Feast of All Saints to the Memorial of All Souls. As long as we walk the earth, we fantasize about what we might become.
When we’re young, we dress up in costumes that reveal what we dream to be. When we’re older, we go to fantasy camps or play fantasy football because fantasies get altered but not buried. And when we direct our fantasies and imaginative prayer in hearty and wholesome ways, we will keep our minds and souls oriented toward what we really desire: to become a saint. I wish you blessings as we approach the annual Feast of All Saints. May we, one day, be counted among them.