All Saints Day


First: Rev 7:2-4,9-14
Psalm: Ps 23:1-6 r.6
Second: 1 John 3:1-3
Gospel: Matt 5:1-12

I was leaving the office on Friday, and wishing a couple of friends a good weekend. One ask me if I had anything special planned for the weekend so I told him I was going to be preaching on All Saints. For a second he looked surprised and then said, “What the band?”

Today we celebrate all the saints, as Saint John described them today, “an impossible number, from every nation, race, tribe and language”. But we are not here today to honour the saints for their benefit, as St Bernard of Clairvaux pointed out, they already stand before our Lord, what good would our honour and veneration do them. Today is about us, how our lives can benefit from even the smallest encounter with them. How we long to join them in heaven, and how we can learn from the stories they left us of their lives.

About 10 years ago I was sitting at the breakfast table with 8 or 9 friends. Most of the others around the table had important things to do that day, only Normy and I had nothing to do. Now I can't remember exactly how the conversation started but it ended up with Normy and I writing a long list of all the nothing we were going to do that day. Things like:
Feeding the pigeons in the park
Giving flowers to a perfect stranger
Finding out who the patron saint of France is
etcetera, etcetera

So once we had finished a very leisurely breakfast we drove into Bristol, and sat on a park bench in front of the council houses, drinking coffee and feeding the pigeons. After about half an hour we noticed were were sitting opposite Bristol central library, so we thought that would be a good place to find out who the patron saint of France was.

So we walked across the green and into the library. Surrounded by hundreds of shelves and thousands of books, we took the easy route and asked the lady on the information desk where we might find a book about saints. She spent a little time with some cards and microfilm and then took us upstairs to the dusty and interesting books. A couple of shelves in, she stopped and produced an encyclopaedia of saints.

Back then I wasn't a Christian and I must admit to being surprised that such a book existed. It was fascinating, and we spent a good hour reading about patron saints of countries, of professions, we even found that there are two patron saints of eyes, Lucy & Raphael, we jokingly said Lucy must be for the left and Raphael for the right.
After leaving the library we then bought some flowers and went back to the library and gave them to the nice lady on the information desk.

The reason I am sharing this story with you was that this was my first encounter with the saints. As I read about them, and saw a whole book could be filled with their stories, realised that many of the days of the year were dedicated to them, they in a small way touched me. I had spent some time, some very pleasant time, with the holy heroes of God, and now ten years later, like you all I have set my heart on joining them.

So what sort of people are the saints. They are just like us, they have sad days when their spirit is poor, they are gentle, they mourn, they yearn for justice, they show mercy, their hearts are good, they bring calm to conflict and all to often the world doesn't understand them and gives them a hard time. These beatitudes, these blessing, are most profoundly found in the Jesus, they are reflected in the lives of the saints. And now the saints stand before our lord in heaven, rejoicing and glad.

There is a lot we can learn from the saints, from the lives they lead, the choices they made, the writings they have left, the sacrifices they have made. At the start of this homily I referred to Saint Bernard, he was a Frenchman from the 12th century. He lived a monastic life, was a powerful preacher, became an abbot, and influenced the political and religious world of his day founding over 150 monasteries. He has left us a legacy of more than 80 sermons, hundreds of letters and dozens of other documents. I have spent some time this last week with saint Bernard, he came and help me prepare to speak tonight.

Saint Anthony of Padua, is well know to many of us, he always has time to stop and look round the house with us and help us find those lost car keys, or in my wife Gail's case, her lost engagement ring. But have you ever spent time with saint Anthony when you haven't lost something. I spent a little time with him yesterday and this is what I learned. He was born in Lisbon in 1195, he turned his back on a wealthy and royal family be ordained as a Franciscan friar. He travelled to Africa, a when returning got shipwrecked off the coast of Italy, where he got such a reputation for preaching he was sent all over Europe to preach. In the papal court his preaching was called “the jewel case of the bible” and he was specifically tasked with writing homilies for feast days. He died aged 36, and it's said the angels rang the church bells in honour of his death. His sermons still survive today, and I am intending to spend some more time with him soon, so I can ask him more about them.
When I got confirmed, I choose Joseph as my confirmation name, for two saints. St Joseph father of Jesus, and Joseph son of Jacob. I have to admit that while both mean a lot to me, I have spent little time with them recently. Something that this coming week I intend to correct. Which saints name do you take as your confirmation name? Have you spent time with them recently?

We have been called, as the saints before us were called, to be children of God, to seek the face of the Lord, in the certain hope that we shall all join that “impossible number, from every nation, race, tribe and language”

And finally, who is the Patron saint of France?

Well there is more than one, but that's all I am going to tell you. Why don't you go and look for yourself, I promise you you will enjoy looking, because you'll be spending some time in the company of the saints.

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