21st October 2018 SMC
St Mary’s Lansdowne Road,
Twenty-Ninth Sunday of the Year, 21st October
Halloween means, of course, All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of the Feast of All Hallows. The Hallows are the Saints, those whom God has chosen, justified and preordained and whom the Church has declared to be in Heaven already. The Apostles Creed, which we use at Baptism, teaches us that we believe, “in the communion of saints,” and yet it is something people don’t really think about. I was reading a report where unbelievably someone who leads a Church of England Church said they found it difficult to say, Amen, to a prayer which asked for the saints to pray for them. My jaw hit the floor! What sort of a communion, what sort of a fellowship would it be if the saints could not pray for us?
Here’s two reasons why asking the saints to pray for us is so important. (1) It shows how wonderful the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is. Every Easter Sunday, Christians gather under joyful obligation to celebrate the Paschal Mysteries, the triumph over sin and death by the Son of God. Jesus is the first fruits of that and that is fruit which is revealed in the life of the saints. You and I quite rightly ask each other to pray for each other regularly, it’s part of being a Christian: we do it at the Confession at the start of Mass, “therefore I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.” If we don’t ask the saints to pray for us, then we make death powerful, we admit that death is stronger than that bond which unites us to Jesus, because the saints can’t pray for us, others would say, because they are dead. Nothing strong about Jesus’ Resurrection at all in that thinking.
But no, we know Christ is risen and this He is revealed in our asking those who have died and who are now Saints in Heaven to pray for us. This second aspect is important too. Asking the saints to pray for us is a good way to expand our minds and our horizons. Being a Christian isn’t just about what happens here at St Mary’s, though we are called in to a community to proclaim the Gospel and to live our the life of faith. The Church is not even about the millions of Christians here on earth, bound together by a shared baptism. All us Christians here on earth are sometimes called the “Church Militant,” those in purgatory, preparing to enter Heaven the “Church Expectant” and those in Heaven, the “Church Triumphant.”
So, we may feel at times like we are the only one, the only one in the canteen at work who takes their faith seriously, the only one at the party who will bother going to Mass tomorrow. The Communion of the Saints reminds us that this is not the case and that’s a tremendous joy. The author of the letter to the Hebrews reflects on this importance of solidarity in the second reading we heard this morning: “it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find g
The saints know even more what it is to be like us. Our Lord Jesus Christ, and His “full-of-grace” Mother Mary did not sin. The saints did. Now, we must never rejoice in another’s failings or be glad when another sins: that’s the danger of gossiping and being judgemental. But it can be reassuring to know that the besetting sins, the sins far too interwoven in our life to seem removable, that they can actually be worked through, because that has been done by others, reliant on the grace of God.
I want to try briefly to introduce you to four saints to know better.
Look at St James and St John in the Gospel this morning. They’re two of the twelve apostles, brothers with a dad called Zebedee. They want glory, recognition, someone to honour what they’ve done, to be thanked, someone to make a fuss of them for a change, after all they’ve left house and home, family and regular employment to follow Jesus. Surely there must be some reward: “Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.” We need to learn as they did that suffering is part of following Jesus. For all I struggle with life at times, I know that my discipleship compared to St James and St John pails into insignificance. When I suffer I become grumpy or resentful or simply convince myself that I can give up on my commitments to God, but that doesn’t mean all is lost: they will pray for me that I might know the Lord they love and see in Heaven. They have come through the suffering, such as Isaiah spoke of in our first reading concerning the Lord’s chosen one: “He shall see the light and be content.”
St Mark, one of the four Evangelists, the four Gospel writers, is typically pretty blunt about the disciples. The differences in the Gospels remind us that the Life of Jesus wasn’t a computer-generated story of a hero, but the cobbled-together, Spirit-inspired records of an oral tradition about One whom the world deemed a monumental failure. One of them was written by St Mark, known as John Mark, whom Paul encountered in Acts 12 in Jerusalem. St Peter refers to Mark as “my son” in one of his letters (I Peter 5:13). In his Gospel that we have in the New Testament, he doesn’t worry about telling us how Jesus was born, or indeed about the Resurrection. He’s normally depicted as a lion because that’s how his Gospel begins, with John the Baptist roaring the desert. His Gospel concludes with terrified disciples and later editors inserted the account of the Resurrection. We’ve been reading from His Gospel since December last year every Sunday, with the exception of August, and so we have, perhaps without realising it, been building a relationship with this man who wants us to know Jesus better, who saw that those first disciples had a lot still to learn and who longs for us to continue the narrative of people longing for Christ. May St Mark pray for us in this venture.
Ten days ago I was in Avila in Northern Spain with Bishop Jonathan and some forty of his priests. We were seeking to discover more about St Theresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, two saints of the sixteenth century who were blessed with dramatic and intense revelations of the love of Jesus, with a particular devotion to the Infant Jesus and to St Joseph, his earthly father. One of Theresa of Avila’s great books, available to read in English today is the Interior Castle. She writes of the soul of as a castle, “formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, containing many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.” She encouraged her sister Carmelites to reflect on who dwells within them. Remember, after all that Jesus promises to “abide within us” (John 14:20). St Theresa writes that because we fail to remember this, “we do little to preserve [our soul’s] beauty; all our care is concentrated in our bodies, which are but the coarse setting of the diamond.”
St Theresa goes on, there are many rooms in this castle, “of which some are above, some below, others at the side, in the centre, in the midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.” This description can be very comforting to us, my sisters and brothers, because so often saints describe the spiritual life as a ladder, or a mountain and that has much to teach us undoubtedly, but it can make it feel a struggle, it can seem to emphasise failure and descending the ladder when we sin. Imagine the excitement of a child rushing through a palace discovering more and more of these rooms and what’s in each one. So it is in our spiritual life, discovering the doctrines of the Church, the lives of the saints, the passages of Scripture that we read together as a family, how our sisters and brothers here at St Mary’s live their lives faithfully seeking the Lord. This great wealth as we discover more of Jesus’ love for the Church.
So, give thanks that we’re members of the Church, that the Church involves Saints already in Heaven, try to come along next week to All Saints’ Day to ask for their prayers. And may St Mark pray for us who continue, like the disciples, to search measly after Christ. May the sons of Zebedee, St John and St James, pray for us that we might learn the cost of discipleship. May St Theresa of Avila pray for us that we may have renewed excitement as we look through the palace of our soul, the treasure-store of the grace and the faith God has given us.