2nd Nov All Souls 12.00 noon
7th Nov Special Memorial Service 4.30pm
5th Dec Christingle 3,00pm
19th Dec Carol Service 4,00pm St Peters
24th December Vigil Mass St Peters (time tbc)
25th Christmas Day Mass 10.00am
26th Dec (Boxing Day) Normal Sunday Mass 9.30am
Sermon All Saints
Many of the saints we venerate today are represented to us as statues. In the present times, statues can be controversial things. You may recall that in June last year the statue of Edward Colston, seventeenth century merchant and Tory member of parliament, was toppled and thrown into Bristol Harbour. Although he was commemorated as a philanthropist, he also had involvement with the slave trade. Likewise, the statues of Cecil Rhodes and others have been called into question. Without getting into the political arguments, there are some who claim that the commemoration of such people is wrong; others that we should not erase our history or be ashamed of it. There is a more subtle argument that says that we can continue to recognise the place these people have in history and their good points, whilst at the same time acknowledging that not everything about them was praiseworthy by the standards of today.
The saints we give thanks for today were flesh and blood just as we are. None of them were what we would call “plaster saints”. Every one of them has a backstory. Their journey into sanctity is one marked by struggle and by the need to repent and to walk in the way of the Cross. The former ways of life had to change and their highest ambition had to become that of growing more and more like Christ himself. When we look to Jesus we see both the fulness of humanity and the presence of God. He alone is sinless, whereas the rest of us, whether immortalised in statues or not, are in need of forgiveness and of the restorative power of God’s grace. Our lives tell the story of human fallibility, but at the same time, the light of Christ can be glimpsed through lives of faith.
When Jesus taught the crowds up on a hill he was also lifting their field of vision to see humanity from a wider perspective. It was on a hill that Jesus himself was transfigured and seen in the light of God’s glory. This was a revelation of his true nature, but also a glimpse of what would lie ahead through the events of the Cross. It was a glimpse of a humanity that would be ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven – transformed by the risen life of Christ.
Jesus teaches that the way to true happiness and a life blessed by God would not come by following worldly values. In fact, our expectations are inverted as Jesus teaches that being poor in spirit is the way to happiness, as is a hunger and thirsting for righteousness. Even being persecuted in Jesus’s name is given as a way to true happiness. The world seems to hold out something quite different. From a worldly perspective we might say:
“Happy are those who seem to know everything, for they shall be admired.
Happy are the pushy, for they shall get what they want.
Happy are the greedy and acquisitive, for they shall live in comfort.
Happy the troublemakers, for they shall divide and rule.”
Jesus knew that none of these ways would bring peace to the soul or lasting joy. The saints we venerate today came to realise that too and let go of worldly ambition to follow Christ in poverty of spirit.
It’s true that there are plenty of people in the world who are praiseworthy and who do good works for other people. Not all of them are Christian or religious at all. But the distinctive thing about the way of Christ is that we are taught first of all to know our need of God. Although the saints could be called heroes of the faith, they are not venerated first and foremost for human heroism. They knew their weakness and limitations and knew how wrong it would be to believe too much in themselves or even to take themselves too seriously. By going to God with empty hands and open hearts their lives were filled with God’s grace, in a way that brought blessings not only to themselves but to everyone they would meet. No amount of human goodness could be a substitute for this godly presence that changed their lives.
The story of the saints is not so much a story of extraordinary lives, but of ordinary lives filled with an extraordinary grace. Like us, they listened to the word of God and allowed it to be fruitful in their lives. Like us, they received the Body and Blood of Christ and grew in the likeness of the one they were receiving. Also like us, they tried to reflect the love of God in the way they related to others. Whether or not this always worked out perfectly, they were steadfast in their faith, refused to give up and knew where true happiness came from.
The saints remind us that we are, as the letter of St Jon reminds us, the children of God. This is not something we have to earn, but it is key to our identity. As the writer tells us: “… what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all that we know is that when it is revealed, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is.”
Today, perhaps we could reflect upon the life of one of the saints who especially inspires us or with whom we identify in some way. Or we could just marvel at this great company of the blessed that we read about in the book of the Apocalypse. These are human beings like us. We too are called to be saints. We may never be remembered in an encyclopaedia of saints and we may not make anywhere near as good a job of it as they did. But as we ask for their intercession and we look to their examples, surely we can remind ourselves of our need for God and invite the light of Christ to shine more clearly through our lives.