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Hallo again to all in the Octave of All Saints.

For years that phrase has carried with it mystery, grace, and sheer 'otherness'. Every feast day should, but many individual holy days naturally 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. We know of them. We celebrate their lives, even if our memory of some of their actual surnames may be a little dodgy.

Sunday SchoolAll 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 lively 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 2008. Doctors and nurses who gave their lives whilst battling disease, whose names are ornately painted on a wall in a hospital chapel in London. Great War parish memorialMen and women of every profession who disregard life for duty — an 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.

When we remember all saints and all souls, we often include the souls of the living in our prayers for the souls of the dead. And we pray that, as we continue to age, we'll be less able to tell the difference between the souls of those we can reach out and touch, the souls of those we talk or 'twitter' to, and the souls of those whose bones lie under decaying stone. All will become more and more jumbled into one.

Call it the communion of saints.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 2 November 2008


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