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Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints' Day, Year A

It was Advent 2007. I was on placement in a parish in Birmingham – a

relatively large parish, and with many of the funerals we had, the coffin

would be brought into church the night before. So being Advent we were

getting things ready in church for the parish penance service, and I had been

asked to say a few words. But, looking round the church, I spotted

something. We had received a body into church earlier that evening, and it

was resting there in front of the altar. I said to the parish priest: “shall we

move the coffin?” He replied: “No, leave it there. It’ll give them

something to think about.”

How much thought do we give to this life and the next? Do we prefer not to

think about the next life too much? We can’t live our lives with our heads in

the clouds, but neither can we put them in the sand, either. The French

Catholic novelist Leon Bloy once said: “The only real sadness, the only real

failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”

But what does that mean? Do we have to spend the rest of our lives in a

monastery? If that’s your calling, then yes. But for most of us, our vocation

is something else. Yet we are all called to be saints.

The saints lived through different eras, and had different temperaments and

personalities. Just because St Chad refused to travel on a horse, it doesn’t

mean that saints never ride horses, or use cars, because St Wilfrid, living at

the same time as him, did (ride a horse, that is). Just because St Bernadette

grew up in a poor family, it doesn’t mean that in order to be saints we all

have to live in poverty. St Maximilian Kolbe gave up his life in Auschwitz

for another man who was going to be killed who had a family. That doesn’t

mean we can’t be saints unless we give up our lives for some reason. Pope

St John Paul II travelled the world proclaiming the Gospel – it doesn’t mean

that in order to be a saint you have to be Polish and a member of the clergy.

In fact, he canonised many laypeople from the 20 th century to show that

sanctity is something that can be lived out in ordinary life, not relegated to

monasteries centuries ago. Sanctity is something alive. Jesus is alive; His

Church is alive; the sacraments that make us holy are still here; the Rosary is

still an effective weapon of holiness and conversion. It’s what we do now,

that determines the future. We can have a new golden age of Catholicism,

or we can let things slip and slide and become more and more of a shadow

of what they once were. We can decide!

But we have to want to decide, and not to settle for mediocrity. Mediocrity

is easier, it’s less dangerous. CS Lewis once said, in The Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.

We are half-hearted creatures … when infinite joy is offered us, [we are]

like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum

because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

We are far too easily pleased.”

As I said, the means of “saint-making” are still with us. The Eucharist is

described officially by the Church the source and summit of the Christian

life. If we think of those two words, “source” and “summit”, what do they

mean? A source is the origin from which a river flows (not sauce as in

tomato sauce). Without the source, there is no river. A summit is the very

high point of a mountain. The Eucharist is the very high point of the

Catholic faith. We have to allow ourselves to be transformed by the

Eucharist, to be the people the Lord is calling us to be. But are we open to

that grace? Let me remind you that it is a dangerous thing. Cardinal

Christian Tumi, Archbishop of Douala in Cameroon, had this to say at the

International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City in 2008:

“The Eucharistic person is a dangerous person, burning with the fire of the

spirit and whose only purpose is to extend that fire and to become fire for

others. This person is a person of daring, a person of confrontation, a person

of radicalism, gospel radicalism, and of the absolute. … The person of the

Eucharist who loves, disturbs everybody, shakes everybody and might even

give them a bad conscience or the feeling of a bad conscience. Our vocation

as witnesses to the Gospel is to give others a bad conscience so that the other

person knows how to distinguish bad from good, evil from good and when a

person does evil their conscience accuses them.”

We could add that if we are like that, people might find us annoying. But if

they are a bit wet, we need to give them the fire of the Holy Spirit to get rid

of their dampness, and warm their hearts. Then, they too, can be, as Pope

Francis said, people with “hearts of fire, feet on the move”.

So, when it’s our turn, and it’s our coffin that’s brought into church, will we

have lived our calling to the full, and will we have given them something to

think about?

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