Thursday, October 20, 2016

All Saints' Day Costume Backlash: only neat and tidy saints need apply?

Hey guys. 👋 I'm still not back. The book is coming along, but there's still a ways to go. But. I got this mailbag question via email and answered it via email, and wanted to share it here, just in case any of you are facing the same criticisms. I really hope you're not. I suppose this is one of those issues upon which good Catholics may disagree, but I am very strongly in support of my position. (So surprising, I know.)

Also, I'm not going to do the big All Saints' Day costume contest this year <ducks under desk> but Hallowtide has always been a big part of this blog, so I can't let the whole thing go by without a single post!

The Question:
Hi Kendra,

Hoping you can give me a little guidance as I don't have as much experience with this as you do.

We are attending an All Saints party with our kids this year. I'm planning on dressing my younger son as Saint Maximilian Kolbe. I've got a little striped pajama, little glasses, the red P, etc... I was super excited about this costume but then I started mentioning it to others and got a lot of backlash and it's making me doubt my decision.

People have said its insensitive, inappropriate, in poor taste and makes light of the victims of the Holocaust.

I'm really torn right now because while I don't want to offend others, I really love this saint and I see dressing my son up in his honour as a positive thing.

I saw that your son was dressed as Saint Maximilian Kolbe one year and I'm wondering if you got any criticism and if so how you responded? I'm new at this whole All Saints celebration so I'm just wondering where I need to draw the line between political correctness and dressing my son as an awesome saint.

I look forward to hearing your take on this!


My Answer:

Hey Justine,

Wow, I'm so sorry, and I have to say, really surprised. I expect that some people aren't going to "get" our cephalophore St. Denis or body-less St. John the Baptist costumes, or our skinned St. Bartholomew, or our bullet-riddled Bl. Miguel Pro. They are, admittedly, pretty intense.

We don't intend to be irreverent or insensitive, we just intend to be truthful. ESPECIALLY since these things are still happening in the world. Christians are still being martyred! All the more reason that my kids should know about these great saints. It seems ridiculous to me to limit the saints that my kids can dress up as, and learn about, and admire, to only saints who died a nice, tidy, non-shocking death. That's just not the truth of the martyrs.

It's my understanding that many Catholic schools and homeschool groups specifically ban any bloody depictions of martyrs. Thank the Good Lord ours' does not, because that would disallow at least a quarter of our kids' All Saints' Day costumes over the years. I'm sure all those folks mean well, but we don't choose to shield even our young children from learning the stories of the martyrs or seeing depictions of their martyrdoms. In our travels, doing that would have meant we'd have had to skip just about every single church in Europe.

Look at the statue of St. John the Baptist on the outside of Chartres Cathedral, or the statue of St. Bartholomew holding his skin inside St. Peter's, or The Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Caravaggio, painted for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Are they shocking? Yes. Also beautiful and memorable. Generations of kids have seen them. My kids have seen those statues and that painting in person, and they made an impression. My sons have dressed up as each of those martyrs for All Saints Day. It hasn't made them cavalier about martyrdom, quite the opposite. It has made them aware of martyrdom and respectful of it. Play is one way kids learn.

I do understand how those particular statues, paintings, and our costumes depicting those martyrs would surprise some parents. But I think it's a mistake, and perhaps a result of the fact that mostly moms are in charge of events like this, to purposefully remove stuff that boys think is cool from our celebration of/study of the saints, just because it isn't what speaks to us or our daughters. My girls like Disney princess movies. Great news! There are princess saints. My boys like war movies and superhero movies and cowboys and Indians movies. Pretty much every one of those movies is going to have a bloody death or ten. There are plenty of saints that would fit right in there too. And if we let our boys get to know them, the saints can become an inspiration to them.

St. Issac Jogues (one of my boys' choice of saint for this year) is a martyr, himself moved by the martyrs that came before him:
Jogues was inspired by the missionaries that had returned to France in 1636: Father Brebeuf, Father Charles Lalement and Father Masse to venture to New France. These missionaries told Jogues of their hardships, treacheries and tortures which ordinarily awaited them by the native population, as missionaries in New France. Their accounts however, increased Jogues' desire to “devote himself to labor there for the conversion and welfare of the natives”. (wikipedia)

But in your case you're not even talking about a bloody costume. I just can't wrap my head around anyone in a Catholic organization who would throw an All Saints' Day costume party, then believe that to dress up as a saint who was killed in the holocaust, when he offered to take the place of another man, so that man might return to his family . . . is somehow insensitive to holocaust victims. That's bonkers. It only honors holocaust victims when we teach our children about St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Maybe the confusion comes because some people's take on Halloween is to dress up as a celebrity you don't like to ridicule that person. All Saints Day costumes are the EXACT OPPOSITE of that. I would urge you to use this as a teachable moment. Stay strong, stay Catholic, stay awesome!


Just in case you're wondering what the Tierneys are planning for this year, here's a sneak peek at our plans for Twofer Halloween/All Saints' Day costumes . . .




The boys:

I think Mary Jane will be a little St. Kateri Tekakwitha sidekick to the brothers. And, fair warning if you know me in real life, the North American Martyrs costumes are probably going to involve some of these:
(But most likely this homemade version.) Because that's how it went down:

We just really can't help ourselves.

More costume inspiration can be found in the following posts:

Over 150 All-Saints Day Costumes for Kids

Over 150 MORE All Saints Day Costumes for Kids

Costumes for All Saints Day AND Halloween: One Part Catholic, Two Parts Awesome

Last Minute Twofer Costumes for Halloween AND All Saints Day

Hallowtide . . . It's How We Roll: All Saints Day Costumes for Awesome Kids Only


And here's some other stuff:

Halloween Movies to Spook the Whole Family

Spooky Stories for the Whole Family (and how to get them for free)

Scary Stories: Empowering Kids Since 1812

Praying for the Dead With Children

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


Monday, October 10, 2016

How We Discuss Imperfect Heroes with Kids

Happy Columbus Day!

This is not a feast of the Catholic Church, of course, but it's a national celebration (at least it WAS a celebration, now it's more like one-more-excuse-to-be-mad-on-Facebook) of a Catholic person with admirable qualities and great failings, both. So how do we handle a figure like Christopher Columbus with our kids? The same way we do everything else: truthfully.

Christopher Columbus is not to be confused with St. Christopher. He has not been proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church. That means we don't expect that he lived a life of heroic virtue. That means we shouldn't be surprised when we find that he, like most of us, listened to his little shoulder devil more often than he should have.

Does that mean he cannot be an inspiration and a role model for our children? It does not.

Christopher Columbus (like the founding fathers, and various actors, musicians, and athletes who come into my children's awareness) was given a GREAT GIFT BY GOD. He was smarter, and more determined, and more courageous than the people around him. God made him with a purpose, and because he corresponded with the gifts God gave him, Christopher Columbus lived a life of extraordinary adventure and accomplishment. He was a Catholic, and it's clear from his journal entries, that he loved God and wished to glorify God through his discoveries.

However, he was also a very flawed human being. It appears that he allowed himself to care more for glory and riches for himself in this world than he did for knowing, loving, and serving God and preparing himself for eternal life.

He was a visionary, daring to attempt feats no one had attempted before. But he became so obsessed with finding a passage to India and China, that he never himself appreciated having discovered a New World!

He was an inspirational leader, able to rally his men in the face of great hardship. He was also a  ruthless leader, resorting to very cruel punishments.

He was a Catholic who valued his faith and wished to bring it to the people of the world. But he seems never to have really viewed the native people of the Americas as worthy of the respect and dignity due every human person. He tricked and enslaved and mistreated Native Americans in a shameful way. He impersonated a god in order to bend them to his will. That's a real no-no for Catholics.

Despite his great gifts, at the end of his life he was an unhappy, unsatisfied man.

He should have taken his own advice: "No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of Our Savior if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service."

So, in our home, we discuss Christopher Columbus as an American Hero (from Italy via Portugal) with very real human failings. We talk about how he could have handled his life differently, how he COULD have lived his life to merit being called St. Christopher, Christ-bearer. We hope and pray that, at the end of his life, he took responsibility for his failings and made a good confession and received the sacraments and that he is in heaven today.

We talk about St. Brendan, a Catholic who visited the Americas eight hundred years before Columbus and didn't trick or enslave ANYONE. Someone who DID live a life of heroic virtue.

And we use this same method to discuss Olympic athletes who have mind-blowing physical gifts, but appear to be less-than-humble, and singers with angelic voices and terrible judgement, and founding fathers with an amazing intellect and admirable vision and self-sacrifice, who allowed and/or perpetrated the bondage of other human beings at the founding of our nation.

The term "devil's advocate" is taken from a role formerly used in the canonization process in our Roman Catholic Church. In 1587, Pope Sixtus V established a process involving canon attorneys in the roles of Promoter of the Faith or Devil's Advocate. The devil's advocate person argued against the canonization (sainthood) of a candidate in order to uncover any character flaws or misrepresentation of the evidence favoring canonization.

Saint Pope John Paul II reduced the power and changed the role of the office in 1983.

St. JPII doesn't want us to be devil's advocates. I'm pretty sure he'd want us to be honest about people's flaws, but not dwell on them, and certainly not deny the obvious gifts that God has given some people, just because they're total knuckleheads in other aspects of their lives.

My kids see my failings every day, on good days they see their own failings. But I don't want them to define me or themselves by only our failures. I want them to search for the good in everyone. I want them to find inspiration everywhere.

 . . . . .

And, I'm back! But not really. Thank you all, my dear readers, for your patience as I disappeared from the blog here. It turns out that I DO have a maxed out point and remodeling a house + keeping said house clean + looking after a husband and eight kids and their food and clothing related needs + homeschooling five grades + driving and volunteering for one in regular school + writing a book is it for me. Something had to give and it was this. But I miss it SO MUCH, and this particular post has been bouncing around in my head for months and months and finally burst out of me this morning.

In addition to all the very real and pressing concerns in our world, would you please say a prayer for me as I try to get this book written by December? So many of you have told me you would appreciate a book on how we live our faith and the liturgical year in our home, and I've wanted to write one ever since I started the blog. But I am having a terrible time trying to focus on getting it done in the midst of the rest of my crazy life and all my personal failings. I have yet to resort to trickery and enslavement, but I have wasted a LOT of time on Facebook and Netflix.

Also, despite me being a TERRIBLE blogger at the moment, at least one of you saw fit to nominate me as one of the best at the Fisher's Net Awards. There's really no accounting for you guys. Probably you should vote for Bonnie or Haley instead of me, but that's your call. Double cheek kisses for everyone.