HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
ST PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL ARMAGH AT 11.00 AM
SUNDAY 1ST NOVEMBER 2009
Many people detest the fireworks because they terrify the cats and dogs – and that is deplorable. But these fireworks do remind us that it is Halloween, just as Christmas Eve reminds us that the big feast of Christmas is at hand.
Halloween reminds us that the Feast of All Saints and of All Souls are big feasts – important times – times for thought. These times are big, not just for Christians but for many others as well. All over the world people have this custom of setting aside part of the year to remember the dead and to remember that, one day, they themselves will be among the dead. The Buddhists celebrate their dead in April. In China and Japan this time is known as the Feast of Lanterns. We have the month of November, a month in which we pray for the holy souls. It is also important to remember all the saints. We do this to spur ourselves on. One day this will be our feast as well.
One of the nights last week there was this fierce wind howling. It was certainly howling strong at the windows in Ara Coeli. I asked myself: What is this all about? I came to the conclusion that perhaps it was a message from the holy souls not to forget them but to remember them constantly in my prayers.
Imagine my surprise then to read last night, as I prepared for this feast, that the Feast of All Souls, which we celebrate tomorrow, actually began with a somewhat similar experience. It began 1000 years ago in the famous monastery of Cluyn in France. The Abbot’s name was Odile and he had been talking to a pilgrim on his way back from the Holy Land. The pilgrim described how he had visited a fascinating island. This island had an opening which claimed to be an entrance into the Lower World. There, the pilgrims claimed, you could hear the voices of the holy souls calling out not to be forgotten. So the Abbot decided to begin to celebrate the Feast of All Souls – a day on which we remember all the faithful departed. That is how it began, and see how it has spread. But I don’t want you to imagine that you are hearing voices all over the place.
Today is the Feast of All Saints. We all hope that one day it will be our feast too. Meanwhile we rejoice that it is the feast of millions who have gone before us into Heaven – millions of ordinary people, including our parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbours. They have reached their real home in Heaven. Remember Jesus said on the night before he died, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you and I will come again and take you to that place so that where I am, you also may be’.
So the saints are at rest after the pains and aches and labours of this world. -at rest in one, long, never-ending holiday. They are at peace after the trials and tribulations of this world. They are enjoying perpetual light – after the darkness, the doom and despair of this life. That light enables them to see God, face to face, and to gaze upon the Sacred Face of Jesus and of his beloved mother, Mary. Among their ranks are, I am sure, I hope, our parents and grandparents, our neighbours and one day we will, hopefully, be there also.
The saints have passed from time to eternity. We have still got time. The saints are home and dry. They are in the Clubhouse – their cards are marked, to use golfing parlance. We have still got time – time to change our lives and to love and serve God better.
When the Church chose Readings for today it turned, first of all, to the Book of Revelations – the last book of the Bible. That book opens the door on Heaven and gives us a glimpse of what life with God will be like.
The Book of Revelations was written to give people hope in times of persecution. The Christians were being attacked and ridiculed for putting their faith in Jesus Christ. This book tell us ‘hang in there, keep faithful, especially when things get rough – keep your chin up because through Christ, God will finally and totally defeat all his enemies, including Satan. That victory is a forgone conclusion. God will reward those who stay faithful with the blessings of a new Heaven and a new Earth.
Today’s First Reading emphasises and underlines the special protection which God gives to his Chosen Ones. God’s friends will be protected from all the dangers which threaten them. Despite everything, all will be well. Have not doubt about that.
We believe we have been chosen by God. We have all been signed with the sign of the Cross of Jesus Christ. We were signed on the forehead at our Baptism and our Confirmation. God does not renege on his promises. Therefore, no matter what, we can depend on the help and protection of God. All we need is the humility to ask that help.
You might conclude then that our first duty is to hang in there and endure whatever comes our way. That is not exactly true. Our purpose, here on Earth, is to give praise and glory to God, mainly by the kind of lives we lead but also in our thoughts and words. That is the message of the second part of today’s First Reading.
The enormous crowd from every nation and race worshipped God around the throne of Heaven. They are dressed in white robes – these robes have been washed in the blood of the Lord. No matter what our past has been we too can have sins washed away with the blood of the Lamb of God.
We can do so by going to Confession which the Church asks us to do this week in order to gain the Indulgence for the Holy Souls. We can have our robes washed clean by the courage with which we face the trials of life in order to bear witness to Christ.
Today’s Second Reading tells us more. It tells us about Heaven. It is our interest to pay attention. This is talking about our future. We are already Children of God but it is not yet clear what we shall become. Later we will see God as God really is. The saints are already in possession of that vision. We are not – but we hope we are on the right road and going in the right direction.
• Who shall climb the Mount of the Lord? We heard there earlier
• Who shall stand in His Holy Place?
The answer to those two important questions is given – the man with clean hands and a pure heart, who desire not worthless things.
Today’s Gospel give us a road map to reach Heaven. It provides eight signposts to guide us on our way:
It begins with the need to be poor – poor in spirit. That means not enslaved by greed for the riches of this world. Some people possess wealth. Others, unfortunately, are possessed by their wealth. The poor in heart are those who are keenly aware of their own need for another kind of riches – the riches which only God can give.
The poor in spirit have the ability to forget themselves and their own need. They take up the cross of helping others. The poor in spirit are those who pray. Nobody goes to Heaven without praying.
The attitudes of gentleness and mercy, hunger and passion for justice, purity of heart, are the attitudes of Jesus. One big challenge is to purify our heart of all worthless desire. I once asked a friend what he thought of a certain project I was considering. He said: ‘Ask yourself – when you come to die, how important will it be then’?
As we contemplate the joy of Heaven and the journey we have to travel to get there, we are called to unite ourselves ever more closely with Christ. Let his attitudes be our attitudes. His heart did not desire worthless things – but his desire was that we should have life and have it to the full.
The Body of Christ – the Church – asks us to remember, in a special way, those who are secure on the way to Heaven and those in purgatory but who have not yet reached their final destination
I once had a neighbour called Tom McCabe who loved to visit the graveyard. “I must go and visit My Second Farm”. He would say. This he did often – to pray for the Holy Souls and also to pray TO the Holy Souls.
I know you are people who go often to funerals. You are familiar with the great prayer which the Church puts on our lips as we prepare to carry a friend, a relative, a neighbour, for the last time from the Church to the second most sacred place in the parish – the cemetery – Our Second Farm. It goes like this
Saints of God, come to her aid;
Receive her soul and present her to God the most high
Whether you have no farm or a garden, this is the week for all of us to go to visit Our Second Farm. From 12 o’clock today, for the next week, the Church grants a special grace or favour, called an Indulgence for the Holy Souls – Everyday. It is available to all of us under special conditions.We must visit the graveyard and pray there for two intentions
1. The Holy Souls, and
2. The Holy Father
Saying the Our Father, and the Apostles Creed, as well as one Our Father, one Hail Mary and a Glory be to the Father.
It is a great act of charity to help those who cannot help themselves. But let us remember, they are in a position to help us. Today and tomorrow, tens of thousands of Italian will criss-cross the length and breadth of their beloved Italy as they visit the last resting place of their loved ones.
I know of your wonderful devotion to your dear, departed, beloved ones and I know that you too will remember them often this month.
I welcome you all around the Table of the Lord.
I welcome Bishop Clifford and the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter to this Chapter Mass. This is the Year for the Priest. Today we remember all priests – living and dead – of our diocese.
We are here on the Feast of All the Saints in a week when we celebrate the Feast of our own St. Malachy. We believe the saint both inspire us and help us on the Journey of Life. We know they met the same problems and difficulties as we meet. They remained faithful with the help of God.
They ere nourished in their fidelity by the Word of God and by the sacraments of the Lord, especially the Blessed Eucharist.
They now can help us even more powerfully
– They can plead for us at the Throne of Mercy
– We ourselves plead for mercy that our sins, may be taken away