The Now and Future Presence

Homily to members of Sion Community and LiveStream Viewers on the First Sunday of Advent, Year B.

I’d like to begin by sharing with you a very old joke – a story from the Star Wars universe. I’d already planned to tell you this today, but it takes on a special poignancy because of the news this morning of the death of Dave Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader, as well as being Britain’s most famous road safety advocate.

In the world of Star Wars, the agents of dark and of light are bound together by a mysterious Force. The dark lord, Darth Vader opens a channel to his arch nemesis and broadcasts a message. “Luke Skywalker! I know what you’re having for Christmas!” He pauses, but there is only radio silence.

He tries again: “Luke Skywalker! I know what you’re having for Christmas!” This time the viewscreen flicks on and a very annoyed Luke Skywalker appears, but says nothing.

A third time Darth Vader declares: “Luke Skywalker! I know what you’re having for Christmas!” And this time, Luke cracks.

“Darth Vader,” he says, “how can you possibly know what I’m having for Christmas?”

Darth Vader looks directly at the scanner and says: “Luke Skywalker! I felt your presents!”

Christmas presents are a promise, now, of joy yet to come. Their size, their shape, even their feel might suggest some idea of the gifts we’re waiting to discover. But until we take the wrapping off, we can never be entirely sure.

By faith, we know that the best is yet to come. Every Sunday, in our creed, we profess that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. God promises us an eternal kingdom with no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears and no more plague. This is not just the promise of heaven; this is a promise that God will make a new Earth where those have died and gone to heaven will be raised up in imperishable bodies. This is our Christian hope: not pie in the sky when we die, but mirth through rebirth on new Earth! What awaits us is a glorious life – in the body, not just in the spirit – with Jesus and with all those who have ever loved him.

And so here and now at the end of this November we find ourselves in a time of waiting; a time marked by promises so close that we can feel their outline, but where the joy is yet to be fulfilled.

We have the promise of Christmas; this year, the gifts might arrive in the post rather than in the hands of our loved ones. But we will keep the same discipline of waiting until the day of unwrapping, playing guessing games about what they may contain. To open one’s presents before Christmas would be to spoil the joy of the long-awaited moment.

We have the promise of a vaccine which will bring us the long-awaited day when we can embrace and draw close to one another again. But we must first pass through the tunnel of this winter before we reach the light of spring, taking care to keep our distance as we await the time of renewed closeness.

We have the promise of Christ’s second coming. And yet we can already feel his presence. St Paul writes of how the Gifts of the Spirit are poured out in their fullness. What we want is to be with Jesus in the Kingdom where tears, pain and suffering are things of the past. But what we’re offered are those hints of the presence of the Lord, which we can feel even though they are not yet fully unwrapped. We can feel his presence through his Holy Spirit living within us. The same spirit which enabled Jesus to work miracles lives in you and me; and when we learn to yield to the Holy Spirit miracles can be worked through us. If you’ve ever been to an Alpha Course or a Renewal Prayer Group you may have personal experience of this; if not, I strongly recommend you find an Alpha or similar course starting in the New Year – for even receiving prayer online, it’s possible to encounter the presence of the Lord in a new way.

The prophet Isaiah knows that God has the power to rescue us; and yet we are not always rescued from the trials of human life. Isaiah cries out, “If only you’d come with your presence – the very mountains would melt!” But it’s not God’s perfect plan for us to unwrap his presence yet; we are asked to be content with the subtle signs of his Holy Spirit living within us. As we wait, we must ask God for strength; you might wish to take as your own the words of a song we’ll use later in this Mass:

Steady heart that keeps on going / steady love that keeps on holding / lead me on. / Steady grace that keeps forgiving / steady faith that keeps believing / lead me on.

Steffany Gretzinger & Amanda Lindsey Cook

The song begins by saying “I can’t see what’s in front of me” but ends with the promise that we will run together with God. So what I have to offer you this day is not a new hope, but a hope we have known about for 2000 years. For us as Christians, hope is the certain knowledge of things to come, the knowledge that Christ will come again, the knowledge that this world with all its brokenness will come to an end. Just stay awake! Get ready! For you do not know the day or the hour when the Lord will invite you into the fullness of his kingdom.

It may come through the end of the world as we know it; more likely, as for 20 centuries of Christians, the Kingdom will come to us fully at the end of our human life on earth. Admission to God’s New Earth its not automatic; it does depend on us putting our trust in Jesus here now. And although we do not see him, it’s not hard to feel at least some signs of his presence, because we are not be without the gifts of the Spirit even while waiting for Jesus to be revealed! So come, Lord Jesus, come as by a new Christmas – I sense your presence!

The Folly of Autonomy

Today we face three principles which sit uneasily together.

First, Jesus is Lord. We must obey Jesus. Christians have been killed for refusing to trample on images of Jesus, or for insisting that the Pope is his vicar on earth. Jesus made it clear in his teachings that we must stand up for him before men, if he is to stand up for us before God-the-Father.

Second, God’s general instruction, and Christ’s example, is that we must obey civil authorities. This is not absolute – we should resist orders which are evil, such as being a perpetrator of genocide, using weapons of mass destruction, or being complicit in abortion. Yet Jesus paid his taxes ‘so as not to give offence’ while accepting the assertion that, as son of God, he was exempt.

Third, civil society recognises that there is a ‘human right’ to freedom of religious worship. The Catholic Church does not ground this right in the truthfulness of other religions – for insofar as they contradict what God has revealed through the Catholic Church, other religions and other expressions of Christianity are ‘not true’. Yet the Church does recognise that part of our human dignity is a ‘right to be wrong’ about religious matters and to come to the truth of the Catholic faith in one’s own time, without coercion. This requires a civic level playing field for religions to operate.

On 3 November, our bishops, together with other religious leaders, wrote to the Prime Minister. They pointed out that with proper stewarding, there is no strong evidence that public acts of worship present any significant danger. They noted that public worship is good for our sense of hope in the future, for good mental health, and for keeping people connected with one another. By doing this, our bishops have been promoting religion in general, and the right to public worship. Pope Francis has also been promoting ‘religion in general’ in his dialogue with Islam, but drew back from doing so in Fratelli Tutti.

The following day, 4 November, the UK Government did not exempt churches from the current lockdown and the bishops promptly reminded us that we must obey the Government when it commands churches in England to close.

What we ask for and what we want are not always the same thing. By asking for the churches to remain open, the bishops have said, “Hey! Public worship is important!” If schools are important enough to be allowed to stay open, why not churches? But imagine what would have happened if we had got our wish. Then a terrible responsibility would have fallen on our bishops: to exercise the freedom to open, or to support the effort to minimise social interaction to restrict the spread of covid-19, and close anyway?

Western governments are not attacking religious worship because they oppose worship. The blunt truth is that to keep the viral reproductive ratio below 1, only a handful of public activities can be permitted. This does require a value-judgment about borderline activities. Schooling can be done online, but has severe consequences for working parents and in households which lack internet connectivity. Is ‘keeping schools open’ more important than keeping churches open? Theoretically, the command to love God before loving fellow man means that public worship should be the highest priority. But the practical consequences of worshipping at home are less disruptive than the consequences of home-schooling.

There is another issue we must be wary of, when the Church asserts its independence above any earthly authority. That independence has often been abused where it has been granted. Historically, many men applied to enter the ‘clerical state’ for reasons more to do with avoiding capital punishment than for pursuing a religious vocation. Jesus did not seek equality with God something to be grasped, but humbled himself. It is a very dangerous sign when the Church seeks exemption from civil law without, in the same breath, voluntarily providing an equivalent mechanism for accountability. Who will hold our bishops accountable for implementing best practice in Safeguarding?

Pope Pius XI founded today’s feast in 1925, as a sign that Christ is King, even if earthly governments no longer acknowledged this. But let us remember what kind of King we worship:

  • Did he use his authority to leap off the Temple and prove that angels would catch him? No. He said that he shouldn’t put his Father to the test.
  • Did he assert his right not to pay taxes to any worldly emperor? No. He said that although, as God’s son, he was exempt, he would pay the tax to avoid giving offence.
  • Did he use his power to strike down those who came to arrest him? No, he healed the ear of a servant after his leading disciple, Peter, cut it off!
  • Did he use his divinity to cheat death by rising off the Cross? No, he used it to trick Death so that death itself would die, embracing death so that he could rise again on the third day.

This is our King, the King of contradictions.

“I’m going to look after the sheep myself!” says God, in the first reading.

We sang in the psalm that because the Good Shepherd is looking after us, “there is nothing we shall want”.

But in the Gospel, Jesus has given the work of looking after one another to us. Part of that mutual care is in acting responsibly in the face of a virus, and recognising that fallible human nature needs strong accountability mechanics in areas such as Safeguarding,

In our second reading, Jesus has a plan to take control of everything – angels and demons, life and death – and what will he do when everything submits to him? Give it all to His Father.

We can argue for freedom of worship where it is practical. We must worship God in due obedience. But we can adapt what we do, for the common good, without denying the centrality of God – for we honour Christ the King only by ruling as humbly as he did.

Servants of the King

Homily to members of Sion Community and LiveStream Viewers on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A. (National Youth Sunday)

Commander William Riker definitely wanted an adventure – if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have joined Starfleet. Through seven series of Star Trek – The Next Generation, he repeatedly refused promotion, being content to be the second-in-command of the Starship Enterprise under Captain Picard.

Samwise Gamgee definitely didn’t want an adventure. Hobbits don’t do adventures – they stay at home in their comfortable burrows. But as gardener to Frodo Baggins, when his master set out to destroy the Ring of Power, Sam felt obliged to go with him. On the one occasion when Sam was required to carry the Ring himself, he gave it back to Frodo as quickly as he could.

What Commander Riker and Sam have in common is that they knew who they served, and they were each willing to serve their master because they saw the good values their master stood for. And both of these stories are love stories – not of romantic attraction, but of the kind of love which is willing to lay down one’s life in service of another.

In Star Trek, as in many similar stories of military organisations, the honour code demands that ‘no-one is left behind’. Team members constantly put their lives on the line for one another, and somehow, everyone is rescued to dare another day. But sometimes there are casualties – and if a major character is killed off, fans will cry, because they recognise the beauty of someone who has risked their life for their shipmates so often. There would be no tears and no drama if the crew of the USS Enterprise never explored dangerous places.

Friends, we too find ourselves in the middle of a great adventure. Maybe you’re as daring as Commander Riker; more likely you’re with Sam Gamgee. You didn’t ask to be caught up in a quest to destroy the power of the thing that threatens our freedom. But adventure has come a-calling and now we are stuck within the plot.

This week, we rejoice in good news. An end to our quest is in sight! With news of effective vaccines, there is light at the end of the tunnel – but there are still months of darkness ahead. Every day, we face dangers. Each time we go shopping or head off to work, we might ask ourselves: is today the day I will bring an unwelcome visitor to my home? Have I done everything I can do to protect myself and the people I meet? Or if I’m so vulnerable that I can’t go out and do those things, then perhaps I face the dangers of isolation. One of our young people who contributed to our bidding prayers today reminds us that even ‘home’ is not a comfortable place for everybody.

It’s difficult to rejoice that Christ is King when these things loom large in our minds. In our prayers, we might even turn to Jesus and ask, “How could it happen?” – but as we look upon our Crucified King, the ‘it’ ceases to be our current crisis and becomes his Passion for us.

And Jesus will say, “I only do my Father’s will.”

And then if you ask God, “Why did you allow this terrible thing?” we will have no answer better than that of Fr Romano Guardini, who would shrug his shoulders and say, “Love does such things. Only love does such things.”

Or we might heed Simone Weil, the French philosopher who was drawn to Christ yet who hesitated to become a Christian: “When I look up onto the bloody cross and see him bleeding and dying for me, I say to myself, ‘Now he understands.’”

What does Our Lord understand? That people are suffering on earth, for so many different reasons? Yes. And what can the Lord do about this?

He can send us! We are his only body on earth. We, therefore, are called to be Christ’s love in the world. Like the crew of the Enterprise, like the Fellowship of the Ring, we are the hands to feed the hungry, the smile to visit the imprisoned, the ones to bring justice to the downtrodden. We first rescue our companions when they are in peril, and then we work together for the good of others. In this way we imitate Christ who laid his life down only for one reason: out of love. Our God only knows how to love by giving, by self-sacrifice.

And God has promised us one thing: “I cannot tell you how long it will take. I cannot give you any hope except one: I will be with you all days, even to the end of the world. I have created you for greatness and great you shall be. I have created you to use your time and attention to learn how to love, because in the learning how to love, you are healed and you are saved.”

If Christ is Our King, we must live by his standards. We do not seek to replace him. We know that he will return one day to shepherd his sheep himself. We know he does provide seasons of rest for us, when we will lie by still waters. But we also know that he, the Servant King, expects us to serve others in the meantime. When Riker has a mission, he must fulfil it. When Sam becomes the Ring Bearer, he must press on towards Mount Doom. When we meet someone hungry or thirsty, friendless or forlorn, our path is clear. My mission is to love, here and now, the people around me, and with them, to serve others as best we can. Long live the King.

Much of today’s sermon is inspired by a homily on the same feast by Fr Hanly.

You’re Beautiful!

Homily to members of Sion Community and LiveStream Viewers friends on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year AWorld Day of the Poor (Messages for supporting the poor overseas and at home.)

I’m looking for a perfect wife!

That may seem a strange thing for a celibate priest to say – but bear with me on this one.

The wife I’m looking for is the Church of God at large. In other words, that’s you. All of you! You’re beautiful! 

You are beautiful when you’re willing to be purified. The perfect wife in the Bible uses a ‘distaff and spindle’ – these are tools for refining wool into yarn. God does ask some difficult things of us: staying pure in our relationships; radical commitment to peacemaking and forgiveness; detachment from possessions and even from the need to be needed. The perfect wife knows that she is beloved and beautiful and needs no affirmation; in our human brokenness we were usually a little more needy.

You are beautiful when you’re part of something greater than yourself. The perfect wife works with wool and flax, weaving the strands together to make fabrics. Within the Church we come with our gifts and talents, able to do different things but needing to work together for the common good. In the Church we might find a cleaner and chief executive, or a doctor and a dockworker, sitting side by side, each bringing their gifts to the Lord.

These days of enforced separation test us to see how well made our fabric is. That someone you haven’t seen from the church you usually attend, would you know how to get in touch with them? If not, should you do something about it when you get the chance?

You are beautiful when you give openhanded to the poor. Now, I can guess what some of you will be thinking today. “It’s the World Day of the Poor! Surely he’s going to preach about helping the poor! Give us a break, we’re stretched already!”

We all know we have a Christian duty to help those less well off than ourselves, even when society is facing unusual pressures. So today you’re probably expecting me to ask you to give more. Relax I’m not! Of course, it’s possible that for some of us, God might be asking us to give more; that is something we each have to discern through prayer. If the subtle voice of conscience is saying “You know you can give a little more to this cause or to that cause,” trust it; we know that God will not be outdone in generosity when we follow his prompting. But that’s between you and God. As a priest speaking to all of you I’m not going to ask you to give more – rather, I’m going to ask you to give smarter. The perfect wife is a wise woman!

There are more needs in the world than any one of us can ever meet. Even when we go to Church, we’ll hear more appeals to support charities than we can ever manage. But each one of us is called to do something to help people in need. So how do we discern? There are two simple questions each one of us can ask.

First: “What gifts and talents has God given to me personally?” The wisest way I can help others is by giving away what’s been given to me. Jesus made it abundantly clear in today’s parable that we are expected to make good use of our talents.

Second: “Knowing that I can’t help everyone, then who am I in a unique position to help? Whose needs are known to me, that might not be obvious to other people?” It might be a member of my family, someone I know through work or school, or someone I come into regular contact with for another reason. Here’s the thing. If I know the needs, and not many other people do, that puts more responsibility on me – because I have the ability to respond! It might be a need for financial or practical support, or a need for emotional support or friendship. It is in the giving that we are transformed and become the beautiful bride!

You are beautiful when you are a pregnant wife – giving birth to new children for the church! We’re all responsible for inviting new and returning members to be a living part of the Church. Let’s remember that it’s important for people to feel they belong, that they are desired and wanted in our Christian community, before they’re ready to share in what we believe, let alone to behave according to our Christian values. Helping people belong takes emotional energy, and we can only give ourselves to a few people at a time. But these are the wise decisions which the perfect wife must make.

You are beautiful when you praise God. Indeed, you are glowing right now because you are taking time to be part of this act of worship.

As a member of the church, a member of the body of Christ, all the things I am asking of you I am also asking of myself. For a few minutes each day I get to stand at the pulpit and the altar ‘in the person of Christ’, coming out of the body to represent the head; but for the rest of the time, as St Augustine famously said, ‘with you, I am a Christian’.

As a priest, as a husband of the Church at large, I’m looking for a perfect wife and I won’t find her in her fullness until the day when the Lord comes again to make all things new. But in the meantime that shouldn’t stop us preparing the bride to be as beautiful as she can be on Earth. So be purified. Build community. Give smartly. Welcome the lost. Worship God. Where can I find a perfect wife? I’m beginning to see her, in you!

Get Equipped!

Homily to members of Sion Community and friends on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A (which is also Remembrance Sunday and my 47th birthday)

Know who you are called to be. Know what you are called to do! Get equipped. Take a risk! And always do your best, because you can’t do better than that.

Since last November, Sunday by Sunday, the church has been hearing the gospel according to St Matthew, and in this Gospel, the teachings of Jesus are gathered into five great speeches. Maybe Jesus gave them in that way; or maybe Matthew has collected many short sayings from the Lord as speeches to keep ideas together; it doesn’t matter much, since the ideas still come from the Lord.

Today we jump into the middle of the last great speech in Matthew, which will continue to unfold over the next two Sundays. The speech began with a warning from Jesus that he would come back at an unexpected time, like a burglar arriving when the house owner doesn’t expect it. That reading was given last November, on the very first Sunday of the Church’s year, with its advent message of “Stay awake!”, because we don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s true of every year – but for 2020 in particular, who could deny it’s been a year of the unexpected and indeed the unwelcome?

The same message also tells us who we are called to be – we are people who are loved by Jesus and will meet Our Lord on a day of his choosing, when our earthly lives draw to their close. This is meant to be a joyful meeting, which is why today the Lord uses the images of bridesmaids waiting to accompany a bridegroom. A wedding is usually a very predictable event. Not so this year! How many weddings have been postponed, brought forward, or relocated because of the constraints of lockdown? But in the midst of uncertainty the Lord wants us to know who we are: friends of the bridegroom, beloved by him and called to his wedding banquet, which is the great feast awaiting us in heaven.

The second story in Matthew’s speech is of a servant in charge of his Master’s household who neglects his duties and beats his underlings. That servant knows full well what his purpose is, but fails to do it; when the master returns he is properly punished.

The bridesmaids in today’s story know their identity, they are bridesmaids expected at the wedding! They also know their purpose: they are to shine! They already have their lamps. We don’t know where the lamps came from, but we might imagine these are a gift from the bridegroom representing the gifts, and talents, and circumstances, he has given to them. But the bridesmaids do need to bring something of their own: they need to bring their oil. As we hear the continuation of the speech over the next two Sundays, we will learn that the bridesmaids are also being encouraged to take a risk, and to give of their very best. But for today let’s remain with this message of “get equipped”.

Today is Remembrance Sunday. We recall with solemnity and gratitude how many hundreds of thousands of young men across Britain, Europe and the world, thinking that they were set for careers in medicine, commerce, skilled labour or a myriad of other professions, were instead called into military service and gave their lives on the battlefields which scarred the 20th Century. We also remember the men and women who more recently joined our professional Armed Forces, with the promise of learning a trade and advancing themselves in the world – but who also gave their lives for Queen and country. This year, though perhaps not on this solemn day, we must also pay tribute to our healthcare workers who have paid with their lives in the service of others. These noble men and women did all that any of us can do, which is to equip ourselves for what we believe we will face in future, and then meet the changing circumstances of life with head held high.

Today is my 47th birthday, and as I look back on my life I note how I have equipped myself for numerous different professions: as a computer programmer, as a research scientist, as a parish priest, and now as a missionary. Things never work out quite the way you expect: I thought I would have spent most of the time since January last year as a travelling preacher going to many parishes and schools, sharing light and hope with people who don’t yet know that they are friends of the bridegroom. Instead, during much of this year I’ve been unable to travel, but I’ve learned new skills in broadcasting and video editing. In doing this I join a long line of missionaries who have stepped into what they believe God was calling them to do, and then found that the reality was very different.

I read last week the stories of two French Jesuits, Jean de Brebeuf and Noel Chabanel. Both ministered to the Native Americans in Canada, 400 years ago. Fr Jean was blessed with a sharp memory and the gifts needed to learn local languages quickly; but after two decades ministering among the native peoples, he was taken prisoner and killed by a hostile tribe. Fr Noel was not only ‘useless’ at picking up languages, but also found the hardship of mission life repugnant. But one day his conscience rebuked him of his unwillingness to serve, and he took a vow to minister to the Native American people for the rest of his life. But very soon after his superiors sent him back to the missions to fulfil his vow, he was killed in cold blood by a former believer who had come to blame the Christian faith for some calamities in his life and family.

None of us know how the oil in our lamps is going to be used. Will it burn brightly, or will it be spilled on the ground by the enemies of the Bridegroom? No matter. All we can do is keep our supplies topped up. But note also that we are not meant to burn our lamps 24/7. None of the bridesmaids had their lamps alight when the Bridegroom came – but those who had oil ready lit up quickly and entered the joy of the wedding.

No matter how much darkness we see in the world around us, we are called to shine. We are called to be light in dark places, beacons of hope in a worried world. So how do I become the best version of myself? I already have the lamp – that is, the gifts, the talents, the circumstances with which God has blessed me. So what does it mean for me, today, to fill my store of oil? What new skills do I need to learn? Where do I need to commit my time or rebalance my priorities?

Know who you are called to be. Know what you are called to do! Get equipped. Take a risk! And always do your best, because you can’t do better than that. Do these things, and you will have done all within your power to prepare for the unexpected coming of the Bridegroom – and you too will be ready to shine!

Blessed Are You

Homily to members of Sion Community for the Solemnity of All Saints, 2020.

Blessèd Chiara Badano

Blessèd Carlo Acutis

Blessèd Anna Maria Taigi

Blessèd Pier Giorgio Frassati

Would you like to be Blessèd?

It’s entirely possible!

When we die, we will immediately face our particular judgment. I trust that none of us in this congregation will flee from Jesus into the fires of Hell! We may, however, require some purification.

When our purgatory is complete, we will enter into the perfect happiness of heaven. From that moment onwards we will be saints, with a small ‘s’. Today will be our feast day!

Now it might happen that those we leave behind on earth will call upon us to pray for them, and when we do, God might graciously grant a miracle through our heavenly intercession. It might also happen that we have lived lives which impressed others as an example of how to be a follower of Christ. Put those two things together, and you might just find yourself a candidate for beatification, when the Church grants you the title of ‘Blessèd’.

This is a curious status – it’s when the Church says, yes, you’re a role model, but not a hugely important one. So in your own country or community they can name a chapel after you or include you in the Litany of Saints at a baptism or ordination – but they can’t do it anywhere else in the world. For that you need to intercede until God grants another miracle and you are officially named a Saint with a capital S. But you won’t mind! Big S or small s, you will already be in heaven!

The good news – for humanity and for our humility – is that there are millions of souls in heaven. Our first reading began with 144,000 servants of God who were marked for protection from persecution – that’s a countable number. But then the vision of heaven proceeded to a vast crowd impossible to count, so they must make the 144,000 look small!

I can’t tell you of all the 144,000 who appear in Scripture. I can’t tell you of the more than 10,000 saints the Catholic Church has canonised. This morning, I can just offer you four witnesses of faith.

Blessèd Anna Maria Taigi, a wife and mother, died aged 68. Granted gifts of prophecy and healing, she endured ill-treatment from her husband, lived a life of deep prayer and committed herself to service of the poor. Her work included caring for the sick and dying in hospitals, helping battered wives and even looking after stray cats!

The other Blessèds I have just named all died before reaching their 25th birthday. Each rose to prominence because of their care for the poor. Chiara Badano, a member of Focolare, gave away her best toys to poor children, invited people in need to the family’s home for holidays, and visited the elderly at a retirement centre. Carlo Acutis not only designed a website to promote Eucharistic Miracles, but also used his pocket money to buy sleeping bags and hot drinks for homeless people, and volunteered at a soup kitchen. Both Chiara and Carlo died of cancer. Pier Giorgio Frassati died of polio, which he probably caught while ministering to the people of his city; on his deathbed, he asked a friend to be sure to send medicine to a wounded man!

Blessed Frassati was nicknamed by the future Pope John Paul II as the “man of the eight beatitudes” and affirmed again by this title when St John Paul beatified him. The pope noted that Frassati’s lifestyle, that of a modern young man who was full of life, didn’t present anything “out of the ordinary”. That might be true of his love for beauty and art, or his passion for sports and mountains. Maybe, in Italy at the beginning of the 20th Century, it was true of his thirst for the Word of God, for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and for daily communion – but today that would be exceptional!

On this day of All Saints, we have heard anew the ‘beatitudes’ of the Gospel. Our Jerusalem Bible declares the people of God ‘happy’, but soon we shall have a lectionary for England which, like the Bible in use in the USA, declares us ‘blessed’ eight times; neither word fully translates the sense of the Greek makarios which suggests divine well-being. The words used by St John Paul II on Blessed Frassati’s beatification day are just as relevant today:

Today’s celebration invites all of us to receive the message … to you … who want to make a concrete contribution to the spiritual renewal of our world, which sometimes seems to be falling apart and wasting away because of a lack of ideals. By his example he proclaims that a life lived in Christ’s Spirit, the Spirit of the Beatitudes, is “blessed”, and that only the person who becomes a “man or woman of the Beatitudes” can succeed in communicating love and peace to others. He repeats that it is really worth giving up everything to serve the Lord. He testifies that holiness is possible for everyone, and that only the revolution of charity can enkindle the hope of a better future in the hearts of people.

Brothers and sisters, I have good news! You don’t have to be Italian to become blessèd – though it might make the paperwork easier! You don’t have to be slain for your faith to become blessèd – though the Catholics who were martyred for simply attending Mass in Nice last week could be named blessèd by their blood without needing to procure a miracle. But we are called to be ministers of hope and witnesses to the world.

Are we poor in spirit and pure in heart? Gentle peacemakers? Do we hunger and thirst for what is right? How do we show mercy?

Today we celebrate all the saints in heaven. Let us honour them by each choosing one thing we can do to make a saint visible on earth! Children of God, be who you are! And happy are you when you do this, for the Kingdom of Heaven is very close to you – and close to those you draw near.