The year finally slips the hand of summer and sets its face for winter. It’s not the debris of fallen leaves or the vagaries of temperature so much as the drawing in of the nights and the sluggish dawn which announce that our hemisphere is turning from the sun.
In a beautiful hymn, St Paul urged the Colossians to give thanks to the Father who has “delivered us from the power of darkness and made us fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light”, who has transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have our sins forgiven. Christianity is not a religion of myth in which darkness and light are engaged in a struggle with an uncertain outcome. Christ has conquered once and for all on the Cross. The language St Paul uses implies that we have been dragged to safety from a battle by God’s
gift of salvation, which is the manifestation of his love in Jesus Christ.
The power of darkness is, of course, the power of evil. It is the privation which results when – and to the extent – that creatures turn the axis of their will away from the Creator’s love. It is a great mystery that the power of evil is permitted by God, but we have to remember that its power is essentially parasitical and feeds off cooperation. The kingdom of darkness may be real, but, as St John Chrysostom reminds us, it is “a usurped tyranny”. The Devil is permitted to promise Jesus, “I will give you all of these things”, but the essential condition for this to happen is, “if you fall down and worship me”. Therein lies the extent of the Devil’s power. Man gave power to sin and death through his own choices, but once he was admitted to such a tyranny he could not escape simply by another choice, any more than a tyrant would release a would-be defector. But the weakness of all tyranny lies in its contempt for the superior weapons of love and self-sacrifice.
The loving kindness of the heart of our God comes, like the dawn from on high, to shine on the darkness which has blinded us to our own best interest, and to guide our footsteps out of such captivity. We need only to be turning our faces to this Son to navigate our way, but it is vital that we do so to retain our true direction and objective as we journey through the territories of the Prince of this World.
Our culture needs the same reminder as the Colossians as we rush again to embrace the cult of Halloween with ever greater enthusiasm. This has a much darker side than just the irritating consumerism, which itself helps trivialise the reality of evil. It suggests that the powers of darkness are mildly amusing; that their force can be compelled and flirted with, even if just for a trick or treat.
I write on the feast of the great St Teresa of Avila, who famously wrote: “I am more scared of those who are scared of the Devil than I am of the Devil himself.” But she writes this in a religious and cultural context which gives credence to the existence of personal evil, and to a Christian anthropology which holds that for every demon there is a legion of angels and saints protecting me. There is a sacramental economy which mediates the merits of Christ’s saving Passion and can powerfully apply these to the natural world here and now to defeat Satan, to the extent that I am living by faith and seeking to cooperate with grace.
It is no accident than in an increasingly secular age, Halloween is more eagerly celebrated, just as the demand for the ministry of exorcists rises despite the decline in confessing Christians. Both demonstrate something of the anthropological impoverishment of our culture – and even our own Church.
I wouldn’t care, for example, that Catholic children think Harry Potter’s world is exciting. But I find it tragic that many are not equally encouraged to explore the ministry of angels and saints; that they are thrilled by the idea of a fictional platform at King’s Cross but practically oblivious to the Real Presence in the tabernacle or that one must be schooled in silence to recognise this presence.
Many youngsters for whom a goblet of fire is a thing of wonder, would habitually refer to the “wine” they receive from the chalice, and though captivated by the music of cod Latin spells, would be assumed impervious to “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat”, which is deemed irrelevant and arcane. Yet we become what we celebrate.