Quick - what song comes to mind when you think of a "werewolf?" Michael Jackson's THRILLER!!! That iconic music video propelled MJ into the limelight, and became the standard background music for every Halloween gathering since.
A werewolf is a funny creature. It's half man, half wolf. It is forced into existence due to circumstances beyond its control, ie. a full moon. In most werewolf tales, the person who becomes a werewolf is also a victim. Once he turns into this monster, he is absolutely unable to access his rational mind. He becomes a killer completely out of control. In the morning, after the moon has set, there is typically plenty of remorse for the havoc and destruction wrought the night before. Yet, nevertheless, in another month that same person will transform and repeat those same actions. The mayhem is going to take place again in the future. The werewolf does not change and never really leaves.
The Spirit of Violence
To me, werewolves have always represented the spirit of violence. Although we don't actually see a human transform literally into an animal, we have all seen humans become so overwhelmed by the spirit of violence that they act like savage wolves, bent on destroying and killing. This can range from domestic violence, to gang violence, to school shootings. Our times are tragically and woefully full of examples of werewolf killing sprees.
Although Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was meant to be a mostly lighthearted, goose-bump causing, rocking song, it also revealed a deep truth about human nature. Put just about any of us in the right situation, for an extended period of time, and the werewolf within will explode. We will give it permission to escape.
It is especially appropriate to consider werewolves this month, since October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men have been or are being physically and violently abused within their home. That’s a lot of abuse going on, and most of it is hidden. In my own parish, we put up “safety signs” in the bathroom stalls of the church and our parish center. Each sign has small slips of paper on the bottom with the number to call for help. These slips of paper can be torn off and slipped into socks or shoes, the one place that is usually safe from being searched. I will admit - the first time we put these signs up I considered it more of an exercise in solidarity, to get the word out and remind people this could be going on. I didn’t really think there was much need for Domestic Violence awareness in my large, affluent, suburban parish. Then I watched in dismay and horror as one by one, the slips of paper disappeared over the next month. Now, we routinely replace the signs all year and add speakers and other events to our October programming. Our thinking has changed from “It's not happening here, in our community” to “Everyone knows Someone.” The werewolf shows up frequently in the lives of many, and although we may not be grabbing any torches and pitchforks to drive it away, we can’t just ignore these visits either.
As I wrote in my last article, Halloween gives us the chance to reflect on what keeps us from being saints, from joining the “cloud of witnesses” we celebrate the next day, November 1st. We could ask ourselves: What circumstances force the werewolf out of me? When do I seek to destroy another's spirit, soul, reputation, opportunities or even body - regardless of the devastation or consequences it might cause?
The Spirit of Peace
To combat the spirit of violence and usher in a spirit of peace, let’s dwell on these words of Henri Nouwen, "Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come."
Hail Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us and for all those who suffer from violence.