(Jonathan Ryan posting for Jen Schlameuss-Perry)
Having grown up Catholic, gruesome, scary and tragic stories have always been part of my experience. I never thought much of them, they were just always there. And I didn’t mind them because they always had a purpose—they pointed to a loving, compassionate, eternal God who didn’t let the scary things win. Now, I was scared to death of things like the Blob and the Mole People—being Catholic didn’t make me immune to frightful things. But, it did make me appreciate them. They bring a certain fascination, but I always look for a lesson or some meaning in it. Just about everything that’s really important to us was gained through some sort of pain, challenge or horror.
Most Christian Churches prefer the bare Cross for their main symbol, but not us! We go for a full, bloody, pained, suffering Corpus on it. It’s not a sterile, cleaned up version of Jesus’ death—it’s in your face reality about it. We embrace the suffering of Jesus because it gives meaning to our own suffering and because it shows us how far God was willing to go to save us from ourselves. True love, baby.
We eat God. Body, blood, soul and divinity—that’s what we consume in the Eucharist. From an outsider’s point of view, this could be beyond creepy. But, for us, it’s an intimate sharing—a gift of God’s self to us so we can feel close to Him and to become more like Him.
Have you ever read it? There’s some great stuff in there—monsters, demons, stunning violence, plagues, natural disasters, martyrdoms and, again, the Crucifixion. I once had a couple of parents complain that I told their kids the story of God’s covenant with Abram during their Religious Education class. Five days later, at Mass, the Gospel was the one when Jesus tells people to cut off their hands and feet and rip their eyes out if they cause them to sin. I wondered if they were there to cover their kid’s ears to protect them from Jesus’ words. In our increasingly oversensitive world some people might find these stories offensive. They are. And we need them. They awaken a sense of something bigger and more powerful than evil, than our fears, than the realities we have to face every day whether we like it or not and know that we are not alone.
You want to hear a horror story? Read the lives of the Saints. Those folks had it rough. From young virgins who were tortured and murdered because they refused some maniacal man, to brave men and women who were tortured and murdered because they would not denounce their faith; our “family stories” are, more often than not, horror stories. Check out Agatha, St. Bartholomew, St. Sebastian or St. Lucy for starters.
Sometimes we’re the horror. We’ve imprisoned our own (some of whom went on to be Saints; i.e., St. John of the Cross), persecuted others, and protected villains in our own communities. I’m just saying—we’re not perfect and the Enemy has infiltrated periodically. That, to me, is the most significant horror.
If there’s a demon, who you gonna call? Not Ghostbusters. You’re gonna call a Priest. Because, let’s face it—even Hollywood knows that that’s our gig. And it’s real—there are thousands of cases each year that the Church acknowledges to be true instances of possession. We believe that the Devil is real and active in our world. That’s a scary, real and present danger that we face daily.
So, there it is. We don’t shy away from the darkness; we don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. We peer into it and find God. We live in it, sometimes, and God finds us. Horror is a part of Catholic life and a natural genre to us. Happy Halloween (and All Saint’s Day). 🙂