I haven't written a full blog post in a while, due to time restraints not allowing me to sit and formulate something fully; however I thought this was an important topic to tackle especially looking at everything last week with Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls day... Also as I see many Mexicans celebrating "Dia de los Muertos". In all of this conversations have arisen this universal idea about honoring the dead from different cultures all across the world. You will even see this in movies like "Black Panther" which the picture above is from... Or in children's movies like "Kubo and the Two Strings"... Or even "Mulan"... In movies like "Balto" and more recently in "Coco"
I remember the first person who ever brought this to my attention was a friend I met in a big conversion part of my life named Dyron who had studied the major world religions, traveled the world, and locally here in New York was doing a lot of "inter-faith" work. He especially made me aware of Indigenous culture from areas around the world especially Africa. Around the time(before my wife) I was dating a Hindu girl, and good friends with a Pentecostal Youth Minister which had me exploring faith as a whole.(Obviously you guys know I fully embrace Catholicism now)
Anyway, it was Dyron that first asked me about my "elders" and "ancestors" and honestly I had no clue.... of my family tree, or anything for that matter! Being a child of divorce I definitely had limited access to following that line in both families. One side of my family being from Puerto Rico, and the other from Dominican Republic was all I knew. My father due to some family issues didn't really interact with his family, and my mother's side because of differences in religious beliefs was also separated except for my immediate grandparents/ uncles, etc. From this I found it was very common in our modern society for this information to be lost due to migration, slavery, etc... Since then, I have questioned and researched this topic a lot for myself and others. For example, I found that my last name Morel suggests that my Dominican side at some point actually came over from Haiti since the name seems to have come from France and being that this side of the family has mid to darker tones in complexion this was either from being African slaves or native slaves of the french. It is also possible that of course from the "Spanish" part and lighter tones of many members there is Spaniard blood in my family background. (I could continue, but thats one part)
Another thing Dyron had introduced me to was the "pouring of libations" for our "ancestors of light" as he would call it. Basically in indigenous practices liquid(either water or some type of juice) would be spilled upon an altar, or to the earth, or some basin as honoring of the good people in your family bloodline that passed away. This I found in places all throughout, Africa, and Asia, and all throughout the Caribbean, South America, etc. Researching this from a Christian perspective I found that this was also a practice of the Hebrew people as it is found all over the Old testament as well as referenced by the Apostle Paul in a few places like Philippians 2, and 2 Timothy 4... I later found that the reason why it's not necessarily practiced 'til this day in Christianity is because of the Catholic Mass and Christ himself becomes the one in the sacrament who is "poured out as a libation". This is one of the connections as to why the mass is offered for the souls of our lost ones who may be in purgatory, and why we have masses connected with Saint feast days, etc.
Working in the church however, I find that many people of Mexican decent have mixed our Catholic teaching with some of their indigenous practice from the natives in "Dia de los Muerto" of the "Day of the Dead" (you will find similar things in the practice of "Santeria" which originated in Cuba, but is now in many Latin countries). In both, what you find is a native conquered people trying to retain traditions of the past by mixing them with those of their colonizers or masking them underneath. Although having pictures, and praying for these souls is not a problem(and even encouraged) in Christianity as a whole, where it becomes a problem is when "altars" are built or "offerings" are given. An altar is a ritual tool of sacrifice - and the question is to what?... If you have an altar to a dead loved one then that means you are sacrificing to their human spirit - an easy space for the enemy to sneak in as sacrifices should only be offered directly to God himself. The way offerings are done is usually with fruits or vegetables, or the person's favorite things while they were here on earth. Offerings are just that - things that are offered to these spirits, which again is a place where the enemy can sneak in as God himself is the only one we should offer to.
Altars are different however from "Shrines" which are a place of "honor". This is why it is ok in our Catholic faith to have "shrines" in honor of the saints which if I were to use Dyron's terms are our "ancestors of faith who have passed away in light" and what that means simply in our Christian lens is simply that these people persevered in following Jesus here on earth, so now we recognize they are with him in Heaven. If you pay attention though we never have "offerings" to the saints. In indigenous cultures they would ask their ancestors to "pray" or "intercede" for them - reminds you of what us Catholics do with the Saints right?... Well the difference is that we know that the saints have no power within themselves, but instead are those who since they are in heaven closer to God can ask him to answer these prayers on our behalf where as in indigenous practices those ancestors are seen as the ones who have the power in themselves.
This leads me to another question, "Well... What if our family members did follow Jesus well and are actually Saints in Heaven?" They very well may be and for that case it is not against Catholic teaching to have a private devotion(remembering again that the power is not directly within them but in their closeness to God he can answer the prayer). In fact, the reason we even know about the canonized Saints is simply because many people have had private devotions first. So I would encourage you to do so if led in the proper way - in the light of Christ! (A reason why lighting candles is still fine as it is a symbol of such without being an 'offering')
All of that being said, honoring/remembering our passed away loved ones is a part of a practice from all across the world in cultures. The ancient Greeks and Romans, had altars where they would offer to their ancestors. The Vikings did... Etc. Etc. Today we visit graves and leave flowers, and hang their pictures in our homes and I think it is a reminder that we know with a deeper knowing that life goes on, beyond our physical existence in the world.
Let us remember always however to honor these people and not idolize them as we know all of our sacrifice and offering is to God directly himself.
Also, if you would like to read these few articles about Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls day, I can share this PDF shared with me by my spiritual director HERE
- The Symbol
- All is Love
The Symbol's MUSIC :
These are my thoughts . . . My Beliefs . . . My Actions . . . Everything I do. This is the documentation of my quest towards creating more unity in the community by authentic #LOVE.
This blog was started at:
and continued at:
But now, as I have matured in my understanding as "The Symbol" and no longer Brandon Feel-X Morel you can continue my journey with me here.
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