Father Pat Griffin continues his series Considering Consecrated Life with a reflection on costumes.
In many areas, Halloween for children involves costume parties on that morning/afternoon more than wandering the streets “trick-or-treating.” In some neighborhoods, however, with lots of children and well-known neighbors, one can still see little ghosts and pirates and witches walking alongside princesses and superheroes and frogs. In the later part of the evening, it would be more likely to see adults similarly attired and on their ways to parties. In my more whimsical moments, I wonder how close the selected costume might be as a key to an element in the personality of the mature wearer. Sometimes, I tell stories to myself about the appropriateness of a particular guise to a reveler. On occasion, I wonder what outfit might be most fitting for me.
Do people who see themselves as ignored and undervalued sometimes consider themselves as ghosts? Unseen and unheard, they move along in the world without having any measurable effect, as they perceive it. The pirate can represent one who takes advantage of the environment or a situation for personal gain with no regard for the life or livelihood of another. His eye patch and wooden leg draw attention to the lack of vision and the fearful approach. The role of a princess (or prince) can emphasize the beauty—inner or outer—of a person and the desire to make the world more attractive and ruled more justly. The impracticality of the attire can draw attention to how difficult and countercultural such an effort can become. A frog might suggest someone who knows himself or herself to have a handsome prince or beautiful princess within. That aspect of their person stays hidden from others by a certain ungainliness and unmelodious voice.
It is easy enough to sit on a subway or a bus or a bench in these Halloween Days and tell tales of those who are our fellow passengers or passers-by. There need be no relation at all between our characterization and the actual personality of the other—it is not meant to be an exercise for judgment—but perhaps an awareness of the different types of people who inhabit our world. We might also be driven to see something of ourselves in the roles and that insight might be valuable as we consider what costume we want to wear (and we do wear).
A number of people might choose (with knowing smiles) to be devils. They would see this playful symbol as representative of the free-spirit driving from within. I would hope to see an equal number of angels, but again would expect the tongue-in-cheek motif as people suggest their goodness but also the way in which appearances might be deceiving. I expect that Pope Francis outfits achieved some popularity in the current year.
Saint Paul would encourage us to wear the garb which identifies us as a follower of Christ:
“The night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light . . . put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 13:12, 14)
As Christians, we symbolize this effort by a white garment with which the recipient of Baptism clothes him/herself. The Book of Revelation draws our attention to those who have donned these costumes throughout their lives.
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”. . . “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.” (Rev 7:13, 14-15)
As members of the Vincentian Family, how easy would it be to put on the costume of Vincent or Louise or Frederic? We would be most identifiable in these roles as we opened our hearts to the neediest among us. Our eyes could see those who hide themselves in doorways or pull threadbare coats around them in the cold. Our noses might note the passing of those without access to proper hygiene. The growling of stomachs and the begging for charity should alert our ears to those who are without ordinary resources. In order to take on the costumes of our Vincentian heroes convincingly, we would need to give free reign to our senses and to the directions in which they lead us for service. Our charism reminds us that Christ regularly walks among us wrapped in the guise of the poor. Our trick-or-treating with him and for him can have practical consequences.