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Dia de los Muertos: Why are the Skeletons Happy?

Dia de los Muertos altar

The following is a talk that I gave for a Dia de los Muertos celebration this week, where I looked at the religious significance of the holiday.

Hi everybody, my name is Chris Goulet and I’m one of the missionaries at Montclair with Newman. It was great being able to speak with you last year at the Dia de los Muertos event, and it was amazing to see so many beautiful friendships begin thanks to that event, and I’m hoping and praying that we’ll see more of the same this year!

I’d like to start off with a fun topic: ghosts. What do you think that Catholics think of them, do they exist or not? How about I poll you guys. Raise your hand if you think that Catholics believe in ghosts.

The correct answer is yes! We have to define what we mean by a ghost, though. A ghost is a human soul without a body, which is what everyone is after they die. At death, our souls leave our body. Since humans end up going to heaven, hell, or purgatory, we can technically say that there are ghosts in heaven, hell, and purgatory! We can even see stories of ghosts all over the bible, for example how Moses appeared to Jesus in Matthew 17 at the transfiguration.

I’d be more than happy to try and take a stab at any other questions about ghosts, demons, spirits, zombies, and vampires after my talk if you have questions, but for now I’ll keep it to Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead for those of you who are Spanish challenged.

I think I was in 7th grade when I first saw a happy skeleton. Growing up in the United States, when I thought of Halloween, I thought of ghosts, vampires, demons, and of course skeletons. Halloween was a scary time where we watched horror films and in a sense glorified evil. The skeletons that I grew up around had glowing red eyeballs and would come and strangle you. Has anyone seen the movie Mars Attacks? I think American skeletons remind me of those Martians more than anything else. Anyways, when I saw those happy skeletons in my 7th grade Spanish class, I was pretty confused. These skeletons were definitely the G rated version. They’re singing and dancing and wearing funny hats! I thought that skeletons had to be creepy? Why would those weird Latin American people tease us with these happy skeletons? They must be a little coo-coo… Well, it wasn’t until I learned more about my Christian faith years later that I was able to fully appreciate the beauty of Dia de los Muertos.

In Dia de los Muertos, the dead are remembered by their loved ones. This is a unique take on the Catholic holidays of All Souls Day and All Saints day on November 1st and 2nd. I’m sure that all of you have unique ways that you honor your family and friends that have died. In my family, we often go and visit the gravesites of our loved ones on special days like when they died and Christmas Eve. We bring flowers to decorate their grave and even sometimes pray for them out loud. It’s a way of showing them respect and remembering them after they’ve passed on.

But here’s a question for you: why is it human nature to do things like this? What is it in our hearts, our souls, that makes remembering the dead a natural reaction? Any ideas?

I’d argue that deep down, we know that death is not the end. If death is the end, and we are simply “warm bodies,” then why care about people after they died? If we are just bodies, then we cease to exist at our death. That’s it, I hope you had a nice life. Oh and by the way, there was no ultimate purpose or meaning to it, you simply took up space and added to the greenhouse effect here on Earth.

But I’m sure that most of you agree with me that there is something more to human beings. Life doesn’t end at our death, that’s only the beginning. We know that our loved ones are still close to us even after they die. We naturally are inclined to pray for the dead because we know that there is some sort of judgment at the end of our lives, and we want the best afterlife possible for our loved ones. We also are naturally inclined to ask for their intercession for us, that they pray to God to protect our families and friends. So for all of these reasons, praying for the dead makes sense.

Here’s another question for you: why do you think that death shocks us? If death is a part of life, why is it shocking when people die? After all, we all know what we’re going to die sooner or later.

To answer this, I’d argue that death was not supposed to happen. It’s unnatural. Human beings were created to live forever. The famous story of Adam and Eve in the bible shows us a theological explanation for our death: we die because we are sinners. Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to die, but because they chose to disobey God, the entire world was fractured and humanity’s relationship with God was shaken. It is only by God’s mercy that we have an opportunity of a restored relationship with Him, and hope for life after death. This mercy, of course, came in the form of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Jesus came to show us God’s love and defeat sin and death once for all. Thanks to His sacrifice on the cross, we now can hope for eternal life through Him. So this is yet another reason why we pray for the dead.

So those happy skeletons that I was talking about at the beginning? Well, they’re happy because they know that there is more to life than just this earth. It’s a healthy reminder that death isn’t to be feared, but that Jesus came to redeem them, and one day those old bones will come back to life in the resurrection. Death and sin have no power over them when they are in Jesus. Even the devil himself can’t overcome them when God is on their side. The skeletons are happy because they are not removed from their families and friends forever, but instead they are closer than ever to their destiny of love and peace in heaven. They know that the pains of this world are temporary and will soon pass away. They know that there’s hope even in the greatest trials because Jesus is always there for us. They know that death is not the end of life, but merely a transition into a better one.

God bless you all and have a great Dia de los Muertos!

You can check out my talk from last year right here if you’d like.

15 Reasons to go to SEEK Conference 2015

seek cover

SEEK Conference is just around the corner! Here’s 15 reasons why you can’t miss it:

1. Spend 5 days with some of your best friends! Unfortunately I can’t guarantee that a pope will show up…

SEEK 2013 with Pope Benedict

2. SEEK the truth

3. Hear some of the best speakers in the Church. So much so that you’ll have withdrawals..

4. Encounter Jesus in a new and profound way

SEEK adoration

5. Make new friends for life

SEEK 2013 goofy

6. Get some of your deepest questions answered by the experts. Fr. Robert Spitzer’s got science covered, Lisa Cotter has girls covered. I still haven’t decided which topic is more complicated.

Lisa Cotter: Why do Women do that? Understanding What Chick Flicks and Love Songs Have to do with Chastity

7. Meet other college students from all over the country, and even the world!

SEEK 2013

8. Hang out with 10,000 other young people. Some have more… personality… than others

9. Open your life to new opportunities and directions

10. Stay up late every night. People will be playing ninja, signs, what are the odds, and all other sorts of wacky games late into the night… and it’s epic!

SEEK 2013 Ninja

11. There is 24/7 adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

adoration

12. Matt Maher will be there

13. Show off your school pride. Do you know your school’s fight song? You’ll probably want to before you go, and wear lots of school colors.

SEEK 2013 Illinois colors

14. Nashville. I hear there’s a music scene?

Nashville

 15. Jim Gaffigan.

Come SEEK with me. We’re all on this journey of life together.

This was actually my blog post immediately after SEEK 2013… so check out what I thought!

Register now!

Why I Believe in God

Colorado

This sure as heck isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some very simple reasons why I’ve never struggled with belief in God:

- We live in a beautiful world

- How else could anything exist if there wasn’t something there to “bang” the Big Bang?

- Love exists

- When I pray, things happen. Not every time, and not always in the way that I want them to, since God isn’t a magic genie but rather our Father.

- The entire story of Jesus is way too crazy to fake. Starting with the 12 Apostles themselves, millions of Christians died for Him, especially those first 300 years afterwards when it was a crime to believe in Christ. Those people that died in the Coliseum? Those people were often Christians. Why die for something that you knew to be a lie?

- There is purpose and meaning to life

- Even in the darkest moments of life, we have hope

- We desire more than what this world has to offer and are incomplete without God. Just listen to Drake: “I want it all, and then some.” According to the world, he’s made it. But even he admits that he’s still missing something. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” – St. Augustine

- The most genuinely happy people that I know are always the ones who have a close relationship with Jesus. They know that God loves them, and everyone else, and there’s nothing that this world can do that can take that from them.

- I have experienced Jesus’ peace and love in my own life, and seen how He’s worked through me in ways that I could have never expected

Hip Hop and The New Evangelization: What We Can Learn from Lecrae

I recently wrote a blog post for FOCUS Blog, check it out!

Hip Hop and The New Evangelization: What We Can Learn from Lecrae

It’s fun to see that since I wrote the post, Lecrae’s latest album Anamoly was released to stunning success, topping the Billboard chart and in the process becoming the first Christian Hip Hop artist to do so.

Elephants in the Room

Life. You’re living it right now.

If you’re anything like me, you probably take a lot of things in life for granted. I take for granted my life, family, friends, health, gifts, talents, experiences, faith, etc. on a day to day basis. I am who I am, and who has the power to take that away from me?

But there are those moments in life that shock us back to reality. Broken friendships, injuries, and the death of loved ones are common occurrences. They have the power to shock us straight to the core and make us reevaluate everything that we once stood for. What was it that I was looking for in life anyways? What drove me each day?

There’s a danger of living our lives in our own little world. We can get closed off to experiencing new things or meeting new people. We can be tricked into thinking that life can never be anything more than it is right now. What if there was something more to live for?

I’m of the opinion that we don’t necessarily have to wait for a tragedy to happen before we evaluate what our goals are in life and what we’re living for. It’s about being responsible with the gift of life that we’ve been given.

There are elephants in the room of our culture nowadays. We don’t talk about them, but they’re actually probably the most important things to talk about in the world.

Death. It happens to all of us. So why not live for something greater than just earthly things that will pass away anyways? Why not live for eternal things?

Truth. There are a billion different opinions out there, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all true. We have to test them all, and only keep what is true. People are very sensitive nowadays, but believe it or not, it’s actually possible to have a mature conversation about deep topics without bickering and fighting. Hint: they take place face to face, not on Facebook.

Jesus. He claims to be the way, the truth, and the life. Historically we have an overwhelming amount of evidence that He walked this earth. He claimed to be God. Who do you say that He is? Do you know who He is?

Love. Everyone loves love and nobody seems to know what love is. Is it a feeling? Is it just for couples? Is it not worth it? It’s hard to see in a country that celebrates abortion and no-fault divorce, but there is such thing as true love. Love is a verb, a way of serving others before ourselves in all things. Love is a choice to put others before yourself. It will change the world, one choice at a time.

Next time that we catch ourselves taking something for granted, let’s try and remember to cherish this life and look to lead lives of purpose that help others and lead to eternal life :)

What other elephants do you notice in our culture? How can we open up a conversation about them with others?

Discipleship in the 21st Century

When Jesus walked on Earth, He made quite the scene. If you read the Gospels, you see He wasn’t always this “hippie Jesus” that you see in media…

Jesus point

Or even “nice Jesus” that you see in Christian bookstores…

Jesus Sheep

Sometimes He was more like “God Jesus”.

Jesus Lazarus

Seriously, have you ever seen anyone rise from the grave?!?! It’s probably a heck of a lot more freaky than the bible made it out to be, but John only had a few lines to use on it I guess…

Other crazy things that Jesus did? He performed miracles, announced the Kingdom of God, scandalized people by crossing social norms, whipped people who were disrespecting the temple, and large crowds (Tens of thousands!) followed Him to the point where He quite literally had to sneak away so that He could be alone to pray. Jesus didn’t tone down His message when He was in sticky situations either- the healing on the Sabbath right in front of the Pharisees comes to mind. Needless to say, Jesus caused division in the hearts of everyone who encountered Him. It was more than just being #teamJesus or #teamPharisee, though. The stakes were a bit higher.. because He claimed to be God. This was a matter of life and death, as we can see in hindsight. The Jews and Gentiles had a tough decision to make in choosing to believe Jesus or not…

Who were the disciples?

During His years of ministry, Jesus attracted large crowds pretty much wherever He went. I don’t know how they all got the memo of His schedule without newspapers, twitter, and texting, that alone is a miracle! But out of the tens of thousands, Jesus called 12 men to Himself, the Apostles. These men were called Apostles because they were “sent” by Jesus and given His authority after He ascended into Heaven. The 12 Apostles are sometimes called the 12 disciples, but the term disciple is more broad than that. There were disciples of Jesus who weren’t Apostles, and sometimes in the Bible they are called the 70 or 72. These people weren’t specifically called by Jesus, but they still had a very important role to play in His ministry.

Have you ever thought about what differentiated the disciples from the crowds?

Take a moment to think for yourself… what made someone a disciple of Jesus?

There are plenty of great answers, but a few that I can think of are:

  • Belief that Jesus was God, the Messiah
  • Loyalty to follow Him even for days without food
  • Willing to leave home, family, jobs, and so on just to follow Him
  • Doing whatever He asked of you.. even travelling in twos to distant towns
  • Friendship with Jesus, like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

We can also be disciples!

The funny thing is, all of these things can still be done TODAY. Discipleship isn’t just for the people who were alive when Jesus was, but it is a way of life devoted to Jesus that we can live right now in the 21st century! It takes “discipline”, of course, but ultimately this way of life is sparked by an encounter with Jesus and the friendship with Him that follows.

But… Jesus isn’t here…

So here’s the interesting point. Yes, we can be disciples of Jesus, but no, we can’t do it exactly the same way that they did it in the Holy Land. When Jesus ascended, He didn’t leave us orphans: He gave us the Holy Spirit (God!) to guide us to all truth and the Church (founded on Peter and the Apostles) as our Mother. Through the working of the Holy Spirit and the Church… duh-da-da-dah! comes forth Jesus! Quite literally. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We receive Jesus’ mercy in confession. We hear the Word of God in the Bible. We encounter the hands and feet of Jesus when we are around other Christians.

Discipleship in the 21st century, so how do we do it?

  • Believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior
  • Go out of your way to encounter Him, at mass, in prayer, in serving the poor, in reading the scriptures, in confession
  • Live your life to glorify Him first and foremost, and then everything else will fall into place
  • Courageously share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, both in words and how you live your life
  • Become intimate friends with Jesus, He loves us more purely and completely than anyone in the world. Prayer in adoration is one of the best ways to do this

Isn’t it crazy how for each of the major ways you could be a 1st century disciple, you can become a 21st century disciple?!

Choosing to believe in Jesus isn’t a matter of life and death (on this earth) anymore, but it still is a matter of eternal consequences. We can’t just sit on the sidelines our entire lives without making a choice. Jesus is either a lunatic, or He’s God.

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” – Jesus to the Woman at the well, John 4:10

Climbing Mountains

You don’t just get out of bed and climb a mountain. There are so many things that you have to plan for and have right in order to accomplish a crazy feat like that, otherwise you could be forced to turn around or even be putting your life in danger.

I had the opportunity to fulfill a dream of mine last week by being able to go to Colorado and climb some real mountains with my best friends. I’ve done some hiking before, but I knew that climbing a 14er (14,000 feet and up) would be a whole new challenge. First off, the altitude change is quite drastic for a guy from Illinois, arguably the flattest state in the country. Altitude sickness? Check. It was frustrating because all I wanted to do was climb mountains but my body literally wouldn’t let me that first day. The next major challenge was the lack of oxygen at that elevation. I was literally out of breath after taking a drink of water if I didn’t stop. The pace started fast and slowed down the higher that we went. I really appreciated the encouragement from my friends, because it was discouraging being out of breath so fast and also occasionally experiencing nausea. On top of it all, we were hiking for 6+ hours straight up 3000+ feet: exhausted. We had to be in pretty decent shape at least if we had any hope of summiting. It took a lot of perseverance to finally reach the peak of two 14ers by the end of the week, but man was it ever worth it! I’ll treasure those moments for the rest of my life as well as being able to experience that with my best friends.

As I was hiking, I couldn’t help but notice how climbing mountains has so many connections to the rest of life. Getting to the peak was my goal for the moment, but what are my goals in life? Where’s the finish line?

I really can’t put my hopes in earthly things. What good is that? I know that one day I’ll die. Everything here is passing. Example! Babe Ruth hit a lot of home runs. But what good does that do him now? He’s dead, and it’s the eternal things that he has to worry about now. Sold? Ok, good.

Eternal goals. You know, like heaven. I promise that it’s where you want to be. We have such a great God in that He promises us eternal life with Him if we only carry our cross and follow Him. This is an active choice. We can’t just sit around our whole life doing nothing. It won’t work in climbing a mountain, and it sure as heck isn’t what Jesus had in mind. He calls us all to Himself, to follow Him as disciples who give up everything to follow Him. We can’t just assume that no matter how many times that we deny Him, we’ll still somehow be able to join Him in heaven. Jesus is our true treasure in life… forget popularity, success, cars, and all that! And like any other treasure, to reach Him we need to train ourselves and make sacrifices in order to gain Him.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus points this out very clearly:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44

In order to climb a mountain, I needed support from my friends, training, and the right gear. It wasn’t a cakewalk. In a similar way, there is nothing that we should not be willing to give up in order to reach the kingdom of heaven and bring it forth in our everyday lives. Reaching the kingdom of God doesn’t simply make us “good people”, but it makes us who we were meant to be, fully human!

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Standing at the top of the mountain, I was able to look out for miles and miles in order to see how beautiful the world is. Can you imagine just how much more glorious God is compared to that and how worth it that will be one day?