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Gruesome, Scary, Tragic: Why Catholics Rule Horror

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Catholics don’t shy away from the darkness or pretend it doesn’t exist; we peer into it and find God. We live in it, sometimes, and God finds us.

by Jen Schlameuss-Perry

Growing up Catholic, gruesome, scary and tragic stories were always part of my experience. I never thought much of them; they were just always there. And I didn’t mind them because they always had a purpose—they pointed to a loving, compassionate, eternal God who didn’t let the scary things win.

Now, I was scared to death of things like the Blob and the Mole People—being Catholic didn’t make me immune to frightful things. But it did make me appreciate them, because being Catholic taught me that just about everything that’s really important is gained through some sort of pain, challenge or horror. Let’s look at some examples.

Ossuary_in_Sedlec The Sedlec Ossuary, a small chapel located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec, Czechoslovakia. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Crucifix

Most Christian Churches prefer the bare Cross as their symbol of the crucifixion, but not us! We put a bloody, pained, suffering Corpus on it. It’s not a sterile, cleaned up version of Jesus’ death—it’s in-your-face reality. We embrace the suffering of Jesus because it gives meaning to our own suffering, and because it shows us how far God was willing to go to save us from ourselves. True love, baby.

The Eucharist

We eat God. Body, blood, soul and divinity—that’s what we consume in the Eucharist. From an outsider’s point of view, this could be beyond creepy. But, for us, it’s an intimate sharing—a gift of God’s self to us so we can feel close to Him and become more like Him.

The Bible

Have you ever read it? There’s some great stuff in there—monsters, demons, stunning violence, plagues, natural disasters, martyrdoms and, again, the Crucifixion.

I once had a couple of parents complain that I told their kids the story of God’s covenant with Abram during their Religious Education class. Five days later, at Mass, the Gospel was the one where Jesus tells people to cut off their hands and feet and rip their eyes out if they cause them to sin. I wondered if they were there to cover their kids’ ears to protect them from Jesus’ words.

In our increasingly oversensitive world some people might find these stories offensive. They are. And we need them. They awaken a sense of something bigger and more powerful than evil, than our fears, than the realities we have to face every day whether we like it or not. These are stories that remind us that no matter what we face, we are not in it alone.

The Saints

You want to hear a horror story? Read the lives of the saints. Those folks had it rough. From young virgins who were tortured and murdered because they refused some maniacal man, to brave men and women who were tortured and murdered because they would not denounce their faith; our “family stories” are, more often than not, horror stories. Check out St. Agatha, St. Bartholomew, St. Sebastian or St. Lucy for starters.

Demonic Possession

If there’s a demon, who you gonna call? Not Ghostbusters. You’re gonna call a priest. Because, let’s face it—even Hollywood knows that that’s our gig. And it’s real—there are thousands of cases each year that the Church acknowledges to be true instances of possession. We believe that the Devil is real and active in our world. That’s a scary, real, and present danger that we face daily.


Sometimes we’re the horror. We’ve imprisoned our own (some of whom went on to be saints; i.e., St. John of the Cross), persecuted others, and protected villains in our own communities. I’m just saying—we’re not perfect, and the Enemy has infiltrated periodically. That, to me, is the most significant horror.

So there it is. We don’t shy away from the darkness; we don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. We peer into it and find God. We live in it, sometimes, and God finds us. Horror is a part of Catholic life and a natural genre for us. Happy Halloween (and All Saint’s Day)!

This article was first posted on The Rogue as Horror: A Natural Genre For Catholics. Re-posted with permission.

Follow Jerry Windley-Daoust:

Publisher, Gracewatch Media

Jerry Windley-Daoust is a writer, editor, and father of five. He writes essays and stories at Windhovering and is the show-runner for Gracewatch Media, a small Catholic publisher. You can follow his latest publishing projects at gracewatch.org.

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