On 30 October we celebrated All Saints’ Day. Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31.
I wonder what you think of when All Saints’ Day is mentioned?
A stained-glass window or painting showing St Mary, St Peter, St Thomas etc, carefully picked out by having a halo around their heads?
A crowd of holy looking people, hands clasped in prayer, beatific smiles on their faces, eyes focused on heaven?
Martyrs for the faith, about to die horrible deaths rather than renounce their Lord?
That nice family from church who are so patient in the trials life throws at them, always concerned about others rather than themselves?
Any, and all, of those fit the description of saints and today we are celebrating them. The scope of today is broad; I would like to narrow it down to the last on the list – ourselves.
The idea of celebrating All Saints is to help inspire us to emulate them, to follow their example. That’s good and commendable as far as it goes but there is a danger in it also. We can too easily look to people we regard as examples of holiness, whether they are officially designated as saints or not, and promptly decide to give up trying to live a holy life because the bar is set too high. What possible chance have we of looking the slightest bit like them? We get things wrong; we make bad choices; you wouldn’t want to take a look at what’s going on in our heads! We are definitely not the stuff that saints are made of. Just donning a pixelated halo in SL is not going to fool anyone.
Thomas Merton has an interesting view on holiness which he wrote about in ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’:
“The forms of individual characters of living and growing things, of inanimate beings, of animals and flowers and all nature, constitute their holiness in the sight of God.”
He went on to describe animals, flowers, trees, mountains and lakes being themselves and thus exhibiting holiness. Then he turned his attention to us:
“But what about you? What about me? Unlike the animals and the trees, it is not enough to be what our nature intends. It is not enough for us to be individuals. For us, holiness is more than humanity. If we are never anything but people, we will not be saints and we will not be able to offer to God the worship of our imitation, which is sanctity.
“It is true to say that for me sanctity consists in being myself, and for you sanctity consists in being yourself and that, in the last analysis, your sanctity will never be mine and mine will never be yours, except in the communism of charity and grace.
“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore, the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”
On reading that passage, I realised that I had heard that message just recently, last weekend in fact, when I was a member of the team running a Cursillo weekend attended by twelve pilgrims, as they are called. Cursillo is a renewal movement in the church found worldwide in many denominations. It usually takes place from Thursday evening until late Sunday afternoon. The core of Cursillo is fifteen talks and five meditations. There are also times of worship and of fun and free time.
The first of the meditations is entitled ‘Know yourself’. Here we are right back with what Thomas Merton wrote. The first place to begin in renewing our Christian life, in living a life of holiness, is to know ourselves. The first talk in Cursillo is ‘Ideals’ which continues this theme of knowing ourselves. The whole weekend is focused on helping those attending to find their ideals and then begin to live them out. There is not one ideal which is imposed on all the people gathered on the weekend. Each person has their own ideals because each person is unique and relates to life in a unique way.
This frees us from the fear of being unable to copy those we consider to be saints. We may find in some of the saints an ideal which we choose to embrace, though our ideals come from many places, but we are not called to be that saint. In my talk about the laity, I emphasised this also when I quoted from St Paul, who often compared the Church to the body of Christ as he does in our New Testament reading today. In 1 Corinthians 12:15 he says:
‘Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.’
Just because we are not someone else whom we admire, we are not removed from the body of Christ and our calling within it. It is right to be who we are and live honestly as ourselves.
Paul makes it clear in the reading from the Letter to the Ephesians that the saints, which is what he calls his fellow-believers, are not living out their ideals without a context. They live in the context of hope set on Christ. That provides for them the ideal of living ‘for the praise of his glory’. Paul prays that they may also be enlightened to really understand what God has promised to his people: a glorious inheritance with all the saints, and power for living now. Jesus also told his disciples to look to the future hope when living through the challenges of the present time. For Christians, our ideals are future hope brought into the present, giving us the power to live the life of grace.
Although I said that no one ideal is imposed on everyone on a Cursillo weekend, there is one ideal that all Christians have in common as it is the mark of being a Christian. In choosing to become a Christian we each adopt the ideal of love. How could it be otherwise when the God we seek to serve IS love? Jesus, our brother and role model, lived out love, making it tangible, and he taught us to do likewise:
‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’
Is your halo a bit crooked today?
Does the idea of being a saint seem laughable?
Take heart. The inheritance promised to us depends on God’s faithfulness not our performance. Let us pray with Paul for one another, that each “may know what is the hope to which he has called you”.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor