In a few days, we will be celebrating the holiday of Halloween. The holiday has specific significance for us as Irish Americans. Like St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween is a beloved tradition brought to America by Irish immigrants. It dates back thousands of years to the ancient festival of Samhain, which was the Celtic New Year.
As with most ancient peoples, the Celts were keen observers of the sun and the night sky, which was essential for the agriculture they relied on for survival. Most cultures set their Calendar by the extremes of the sun’s progression through the heavens; today, we set our new year when the sun has reached its minimum in the winter, after which the days start getting longer again. Not the ancient Irish, however, they set their new year at a time when the day and night were of equal length when the powers of light and darkness were of equal strength. Their reason for doing so is not an indication of being stereotypically contrarian or eccentric but instead based on a profound insight that we can benefit from.
The Ancient Irish saw Samhain and the time when the powers of light and dark were balanced as a time of confusion. They believed that when light and dark, good and evil are at their extremes, it is easy to tell them apart. However, when they are at equal strength, they believed that one could easily be confused for the other, that the wall between this world and the underworld was weakened; one could easily go astray and become lost and trapped in the other world.
Doesn’t that resonate with us today? When morals are a matter of interpretation, “right” and “wrong” only an opinion and truth considered subjective? Are we not living in “a time of confusion” and divisiveness because ideas of family, honor, compassion, honesty, etc. have become quaint, and even in some quarters denounced? Where even the mere mention of the word “values” is perceived as a threat to some?
It is somewhat ironic, yet appropriate, that Halloween/Samhain falls within the election season. It is essential as we go to the polls not to give in to the confusion of “they’re all the same” or the despair of “my vote won’t change anything.” We are called to light one candle rather than curse the darkness, just as the Irish monks on a small island on the frontier of the known world kept the light of civilization alive as Europe descended into the Dark Ages.
I ask all of you Brothers to take the great gift of the vote seriously, reflect on your choices, and perhaps offer a prayer asking for guidance, but please vote as the light leads you.