All Saints Day

Sunday October 31st this year will be widely celebrated as All Saints Sunday. This is of course a vast subject. But consider this: Pope John Paul II canonised more saints than any previous pope in history; for some counter-intuitive reason most of the saints of the Roman Catholic Church appear to be Italian, which suggests that the Italian nation has special qualities of holiness that are not always immediately apparent to those who go there on holiday, and I write as a great lover of pizzas! But importantly, local churches have always had the right to remember particular holy men and women with local associations. Hence, if you go to Cornwall or Wales, there you will find places named after all manner of Celtic saints whom you’ve never heard of, and even in Sussex, where I live, there are local saints scarcely known beyond our boundaries. Clearly, then, the saints are more in number than just Peter, Michael, and Andrew and others of historical renown.

Perm Art Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Who, then, are the saints? In a phrase, we are. For most of us, that’s a frightening thought. In our baptism, we were marked as belonging to Christ, as having his seal imprinted on us; in baptism, we were called to be a holy people. The word holy has about it undercurrents of being separate, set apart, or as we might say, different. We are called to be different. It appears that in the western world many Christians see no need to adopt a different life style from that of society at large, because we comfort ourselves with the myth that we live in a Christian country, and that therefore we can, as the saying has it, simply go with the flow.

But holiness is essentially about God, and making his nature our own. What we know of God is put in terms of absolutes: absolute love, of course, but also absolute justice, absolute purity, absolute honesty, absolute integrity, absolute faithfulness, absolute changelessness. All these characteristics we see in the life of Jesus Christ. Draw up the balance sheet between the life of Christ, and the life of this world, and it will be quickly apparent there is no comparison. But if we draw up the balance sheet between our own life and that of Christ, does a different picture emerge? The life and example of Jesus Christ serve to confront us with the truth of our own condition, our selfishness, our disobedience, our sinfulness. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded. That is why, if we are to be what we were called to be in our baptism, a holy nation, and royal priesthood, we need also, as Baptism liturgies remind us, to turn to Christ, to repent of our sins, and to renounce evil, and that is something that we need to do not just once in a lifetime but day by day and hour by hour, as the world presses hard upon us and seeks to draw us away from our vocation.

There is a lot of wringing of hands these days about falling congregations, about apathy, dying churches and much more. There are no magic answers, maybe there has to be a great sorting out, but one thing is certain: so long as our lives are indistinguishable from those of our non-Christian neighbours, there is absolutely no reason why anyone should turn to Christ. Every time we cheat and lie and, in a phrase much used today, “doing our own thing”, we deny what we are, whose we are, and what we have been called to be. God give us grace to be true to our vocation, to be his saints, the leaven in the lump of this generation.

Fr. Edward Bryant

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