Hallo again to all in this Octave of All Saints; that is, the seven days following the great feast observed on November 1st.
For years that phrasethe Octave of All Saintshas carried mystery, grace, and sheer 'otherness' to your editors. Every feast should, of course, but many individual holy days more properly recall to us specific lives led in cumulative graciousness, the impossibly heroic acts of noble martyrs, the often remote brilliance of some of our scholar bishops, or the transfigured men and women who kept intimate company with Our Lord, the apostles and the Marys. We know them. We celebrate their lives, even if our memory of some of their actual surnames may be a little dodgy. All Saints Day gives us permission to remember all those in our lives who may never have feast days of their own: the tweedy Sunday School teacher who, through her sheer compelling goodness, managed to hold still and captivate a squirming seven-year-old and make Old Testament stories come alive. Or a dean whose radiant hospitality, singular tea buns, and charming conversation made a 25-year-old displaced person once again at home in England. Those are two from a personal pantheon, but all of us have in our lives names and faces that are indelible and unforgettable.
There are other lives we can only be abstractly thankful for: the almost worn-away names on a stone memorial tablet to those who fought in 'The Great War', remembered by a poppy in 2001. Doctors and nurses who gave their lives whilst battling disease, whose names are ornately painted on a wall in a hospital chapel in London. Men and women of every profession who disregard life for dutyan old-fashioned word; should we bring it back?and who are remembered on tablet, plaque, and crumbling paper.
The great American Roman Catholic Dorothy Day once said: 'Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed that easily'. Perhaps there's truth to that: We paper over people, as it were, with stained glass, when we don't want to see their full reality. Or we let time paper over people, so the orneryness and difficultness of a person becomes character and vigour after, say, 500 years. History becomes hagiography. Part of the mystery of All Saints may be to hold in balance the ability of ordinary men and women to advance the kingdom of heaven, whilst remaining capable of great goodness and displaying occasional sheer brassbound naughtiness. Just like all of us. Just like saints. Just like All Saints.
As the last verse of the old Victorian hymn has it:
Sing praise, then, for all who here sought and here found Him,
(Anglicans Online prays for the health of our friend Mary Jane, and, among all souls, for the departed soul of Mason Miller.)
See you next week.
Last updated: 4 November 2001