Even in the Philippines, Filipinos have started getting used to celebrating Halloween the American way with a party mimicking the scary and the horrible. Now we are being visited by an uninvited horrible guest with the name of “Typhoon Rolly,” who comes just in time for Halloween.
HALLOW is actually a beautiful English word that seems to have lost its meaning. It has nothing to do with the scary and the horrific. And so today, on the Solemnity of All Saints (which used to be called the “All Hallows Day”), I thought maybe we can at least try to restore its original meaning.
HALLOW is related to the word HOLY; but it does not exactly mean the same thing. It is actually a verb in the causative form; it means TO MAKE HOLY, or TO CAUSE TO BECOME HOLY. A lot like the relationship between the words BEAUTIFUL and BEAUTIFY. To BEAUTIFY is to make something BEAUTIFUL; TO HALLOW is to make something HOLY. We don’t say TO HOLIFY; in English, the word is to SANCTIFY, borrowed from Latin, which is the same as TO HALLOW.
Aside from HALLOWEEN, the only occasion that I know that we use the word HALLOW is when we pray the Lord’s Prayer and say HALLOWED BE THY NAME. It is Old English, of course, and it means “May your name be made holy, or may your name be worshipped.”
ALL HALLOWS DAY is the old term for ALL SAINTS’ DAY. And the vigil celebration on the evening before All Saints Day was called ALL HALLOWS EVEN (“even” is short for evening, further shortened into E’EN) and so we have the HALLOWEEN, on the evening of October 31, the eve of November 1.
The word has totally lost its meaning among most western Christians, because it has become associated with the opposite of HOLINESS and turned it into a night of HORROR. I think they have mistaken HALLOW (holy) with HOLLOW (empty). They have totally HOLLOWED what used to be HALLOWED. The objective is no longer to sanctify but to scare each other, just for fun. Honestly, I see no problem about it, as long as they don’t associate it with All Saints Day. The proper name for that is SACRILEGE.
TO HALLOW is to cause something profane to become sacred. It is what the ancient Israelites were asked to do on Sabbath day—not just to REST but to sanctify their day of rest by consecrating the fruits of their labor on the seventh day, so that they look forward again to the resuming their work on the first day of the week.
Our Gospel today is using another word for HALLOWED—BLESSED. The original Greek is MAKARIOS; the Latin is BEATUS. That is why we call these words of Jesus THE BEATITUDES. In this Gospel, Jesus lists down for us eight points on WHAT IT TAKES TO LIVE A BLESSED LIFE (a life made holy).
The introductory verse is already saying a lot. It says, “Jesus went forth to the town of Galilee. Seeing a crowd he went up on a hill, then he sat down and his disciples CAME TO HIM, and HE TAUGHT THEM with these words…” (Mat 5:1-2). To be blessed, we must come to Jesus and allow ourselves to be taught by him.
He taught them what it takes to live a HALLOWED (meaning, a BLESSED) life, not a HOLLOWED (meaning, an EMPTY) life. Surprisingly, he says, to be blessed, one has to be “POOR IN SPIRIT.” Meaning, one has to learn KENOSIS, or the art of emptying oneself in order to make space for God’s kingdom, our only true treasure.
And why is it a blessing to mourn or GRIEVE? Because it means you have truly loved. Only love enables you to grieve, and love makes you holy. Then he continues to describe what happens to people who become holy: they become MEEK—not proud or arrogant. They know what it means to HUNGER AND THIRST for real food. They become MERCIFUL, meaning, capable of seeing and treating others as fellow sufferers. They become PURE OF HEART, meaning, their souls are not poisoned by resentment or clouded by envy. They become PEACE-MAKERS, not instruments of conflict and division. They look at their sufferings as a participation in the suffering of Christ for the redemption of the world. Because they share in the life and mission of Christ, they are READY TO FACE PERSECUTION.
Jesus says, when people allow their lives to be hallowed or blessed, “the kingdom of God is theirs”, meaning, God’s kingdom becomes already present in the here and now through them. Not only are they blessed, they become a blessing to the world. The world becomes a better place because of them.
And so you see, ALL HALLOWS is not just about the dead. It is also about us who are still living. That is why we say in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the communion of saints.” We may be physically separated by death but we remain spiritually united in Christ, in whose risen life we share.
Our second reading is more straightforward about what a hallowed or a blessed life means. It means, because we belong to Christ, we also share in his relationship with the Father; we become CHILDREN OF GOD. In Christ, everything about us that is TRUE, GOOD, and BEAUTIFUL will be made to shine out. Because we live in Christ who is the LIGHT OF THE WORLD, we take part in the mission of making this world a brighter place. Did he tell his disciples, “You are the light of the world?”
In just a few more hours, we will be facing another trial—the super typhoon “Rolly.” It will strip us naked again and bring us down on our knees. But let us not allow it to HOLLOW us. We don’t pray and say, “‘God, we are facing a big typhoon.’ Rather, we say, ‘typhoon, we have a big God.’”
Let us make it into an opportunity to participate in the HALLOWED life, the BLESSED life of Christ. Let us face this super typhoon with the strength and courage that comes from the communion of saints both living and dead. Because we are blessed, let us be a blessing to one another in this time of need.
This is the homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for Nov. 1 2020, the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time and the Solemnity of All the Saints, Mt 5:1–12a