From Gory to Glory
Published on October 29-30, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
It must be thrilling to recreate Michael Jackson’s 1983 music video for “Thriller” on Lexington’s Main Street for Halloween. For some ten years now, droves have joined the dancing ‘dead’ and crowds have come to catch the passing thrill from this live parade. At no other time in the year do people look forward to looking their worst in public. Hours are spent on make-up to appear as petrifying and putrefied as possible. It is quite a paradox that, in this culture so obsessed with looking young and attractive, people would be that delighted to showcase any sign of decomposition.
We never had such parades in the Philippines when I was growing up. In fact, we never did much on Halloween. The eve for us was spent preparing for the visit to the cemetery on the Hallowed Day of All Saints. Instead of dressing up as the undead, we would go to Church to pray for the dead. There, on colored cathedral windows and on serene shrines, we saw the images of the truly ‘living dead:’ the saints who had been gone for centuries yet are still alive in Christ. Some of them even carried the instruments of their torture and death: Saint Lucy held her eyes on a plate; Saint Denis clutched his mitered head in his hands; Saint Sebastian had arrows shot all over his body; Saint Bartholomew gripped his flayed skin with one hand and the knife of his martyrdom with the other. Yet, despite the many mutilations that they had suffered, the martyrs are not gory-fied but glorified: we do not see them at their worst; we see them at their best.
Such portrayals are not meant to sanitize the violence of their ordeals. Holy Mother Church just does not want to scare off anyone, much less Her children, by depicting every disgusting detail of brutality. Instead, She wants everyone to see what is the glory that is in store for those who believe: the glory of the Risen Christ who triumphed over death and decay.
It must be thrilling to recreate Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the street for Halloween. But, thrill, like our own flesh, eventually wanes with time. It lasts only as long as the length of a parade, it plays up to the last bar of a pop song. The dancing dead get a momentary high and then they go back to the business of dying.
Yet, joy, unlike thrill, is a lot harder to grasp. None of the undead seems to have it. In fact, they all look quite miserable. But, the saints, with their silent smiles, seem to know where to find joy. Their images remind us that joy is not in the gory of the dead, in the delights of those now decaying. It is found in the glory of the Living One who alone can, as He did with the saints, clothe the corruptible with incorruptibility (cf. 1 Cor. 15:53).