Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

This homily was given on Sunday as we celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints and launched Evangelium which begins this Wednesday after the 7.00 p.m. Mass - all welcome.

When preaching for this august solemnity at that great Anglo-Catholic institution in Oxford, Pusey House, our beloved bishop is reported to have got up from his seat, moved to the lectern, leant on it in that friendly, unassuming way he has, and, into the microphone said: “All Saints: what’s all that about then?” What, indeed?

Today’s feast acts as a sort-of ecclesiastical trophy cabinet. Through the Liturgical Year, we talk of Saint X and Blessed Y, we commemorate and venerate and beg the intercession of, and all of this for specific holy men and women who, the Church has decreed, are now serving the altars of God in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Today, however, we group them all together, remembering, commemorating and venerating not just the great and popular but those quiet, unassuming saints whose lives of holiness and whose prayers for the living, have meant that the Church cannot ignore them any longer and, instead, proclaims their elevation to Christ’s eternal presence.

Those lives of quiet, unassuming sanctity are not obscure or alien to us. We, each of us, are called to that life. It may be (and I say this without any hint of irony or sarcasm) that you are sitting next to a saint. Anyone who has received the graces of baptism is equipped with the necessary tools to become a saint, and to live in heaven as part of that heavenly choir, singing Holy, Holy, Holy.

So it is with some luck that it is also on this day that we launch Evangelium, our new initiative of catechesis and teaching. This is no mistake. If baptism and sanctity are the source and summit of our lives of Christians, then it is vital that we learn and know what it is that we need to be counted among the blessed: to become saints.

Evangelium means Good News, or Gospel. Just as we listen to the words of the gospel texts sung or read each day at the Mass, so in our catechesis through this course, we will unpick those texts and learn how to live them. We will learn and re-learn how to be people who live the gospel and proclaim it by the way we live.

This Church has, from its origins, been a place of great Anglo-Catholic teaching, practice and devotion. It was established in the midst of the great Oxford Movement and, from the outset, founded on principles more obviously at home on the continent than in the Protestant-glazed Church of England. The job of churches like this, and indeed of the people who worshipped in them, was to reassert and reaffirm the catholic nature of the Church of England, drawing her back to her roots and, thus, closer toward the Rock from which she was hewn.

Living this Catholic life within Anglicanism was, for the most part, a struggle against the establishment of the Church of England, but with a deep-seated respect and love for it. The diocesan bishop, no matter how liberal, Protestant, or indeed atheist, could be invited once a year by Father so-and-so, to dress up in some bejewelled vestment, swing a thurible, administer a sacrament and then go home, reverting to that liberal, Protestant, or indeed atheist, theology in which so many establishment figures placed their trust: not least in order to gain a seat in the House of Lords, or the bench of bishops, or both. How very little some things have changed!

Parishes like this could do just that because, despite the slightly dodgy theological beliefs of Bishop X, that man was a bishop, and there was nothing that anyone in the Church of England could do to refute it. In other words, it was not about what he believed but about what he was: in theological language, ontology, not function.

You do not need to be reminded of how drastically things have changed. In some sense, we are in a different hemisphere, in another sense, nothing has changed. What has changed is that the assurances which the Church of England was able to offer about the nature of its ministers, has disintegrated and we are left in the unhappy and (dare I say it?) un-catholic situation of not knowing that some of the Church of England’s clergy are just that.

What has not changed is our profession of faith: that is a constant. The Creed which we rehearse at our baptism, and every Sunday, is the same yesterday, today and for ever. And that is why we need, more than ever, to appreciate that creed (that set of beliefs and understandings), in order to live out a full Christian life.

We need to ask: ‘What is it that we need to be part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church?’, and then ‘Is that available to us here and now?’

These questions, like the ritual, the music, the vestments, the daily mass, the sacrament of confession, the devotion to Our Lady, the rosary, the praying for our beloved dead, the societies, the guilds, the lamps, the candles, the altar, the bells, the incense and the Mass, is and has always been a question posed to each and every member of parishes like this—clergy and laity alike—up and down the country.

As the familiar landscape of the Church of England changes once more—and this is not the first nor the last time that it has or will—it is our job to ask if what our predecessors in this place stood for is still possible, desirable and, most importantly, what God is asking of us.

We are, in that sense, on a journey, searching for Truth. Our mission is, as it has always been, to seek out the realities of our faith and to live them—day by day, and Sunday by Sunday. That faith, once delivered to the saints, has been guarded as a precious treasure and handed on, without addition or subtraction, to us. That is why we call it catholic—universal—because it is the same yesterday, today and for ever.

And so I stand before you now with a challenge, with a dare. Over the coming weeks—on Wednesday evenings after the 7pm Mass—we will be exploring our faith through Evangelium and facing our situation head-on, asking what it means to be a Catholic Christian.

This should not be seen as an attempt to push this or that agenda: it is about reaffirming what we, and this Church, have always stood for: the Catholic Faith, unadulterated and unhindered, so that we might proclaim the gospel of Christ to a waiting world.

Will you face that challenge? Will you seek out that Truth and renew your faith and commitment to the gospel, and to Christ?

If we do, if we dare to question our uncertainties and to challenge ourselves afresh to profess our faith with confidence, then we do justice to our baptism and we do so in hope of our heavenly reward.

If we know our faith, then we can live our faith. And if we live our faith, truly live it, we cannot fail to be counted amongst the saints whose honour we celebrate this day and to whose prayer and intercession we humbly entrust ourselves and our parish as we journey, together, toward our heavenly home.

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