1st November 2020
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“Blessed are you …” Mt. 5:11
It is not a compliment to be called a ‘Holy Joe’ or ‘Josephine’ to be P.C! Such a description of a person has a certain measure of disdain attached – that the person has the trappings of holiness and goodness but in fact at their core there is something different and darker.
On the other hand, it is quite a compliment to describe someone in life or in death as a “pure saint”. It is a way of acknowledging that such a person exudes a wholesome genuine goodness that enriches the lives of all they meet.
We gather on the Feast of All Saints. It is a celebration of grace and goodness revealed to us in and through the lives of those who are our sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, neighbours and real friends.
Not too long ago I heard a colleague tell a story about a priest who had to celebrate the funerals of two bachelors who though neighbours were very different characters. The first funeral was Michael – a paragon of virtue as we might say. Thoroughly good in everyway and humble. It was easy for the priest to acknowledge his goodness and pray for his eternal peace.
Now his neighbour Jack died soon after. Jack was very different in manner and lifestyle. Of course, parishioners went to Jack’s funeral also. But they were very curious as to how the priest would celebrate Jack’s life. Now this priest had a deep interest in politics and often used the language of elections to express himself. This he chose to do at Jack’s funeral.
At Jack’s funeral he referred to the two of them as neighbours in life and in death. And when it came to reaching the quota in the heavenly scheme of things, he reckoned that Michael would bring Jack in on his surplus! Though different in life’s journey they would be numbered among the Elect together!
It is a good story in that it helps us to put in context our judgement of the goodness and worth of each one’s life.
Celebrating All Saints is a celebration of grace, goodness and blessing that has come and comes to us through one another. That is reflected in the recent practice of canonizations. Many more have been canonized in the last 50 years than for the previous several centuries. Of those canonized a big percentage have been revered in a particular region and many more lay women and men have been numbered among them.
Their lives and death are offered to us as an example and inspiration for our own journey. As we know the oldest named saints did not go through any formal process but were declared so by the acclamation of the people. They recognised intuitively the saints among them.
Yet every saint is also a sinner. They have known and experienced the lure and temptation of evil. They reached the heights of sanctity because they had placed their faith and trust in the grace of God to guide and direct them on their unique journey. Their openness to the experience of mercy and forgiveness has been a balm that heals the wounds of a divided heart.
My friends, no sooner have we celebrated the blessing of All Saints when we enter the remembrance of All Souls. November is time for this remembrance. It enables us, together in communion with the Church, to mark the pain, sadness, suffering and loss that sickness and death brings to life.
This Covid time has given that a whole new dimension this year. We will mark this experience over these coming weeks. As we do so our context for All Souls is set by our celebration of All Saints – a celebration of grace and blessing made manifest in one another.