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Vicar's Musings for All Saints' Day

3 November, 2013

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1)

Today we observe the feast of All Saints (translated from Friday) remembering the spiritual celebrities, those like our patron saint Peter who were the "architects" of the church universal. Yesterday we held a Requiem Mass for All Souls, it was a day to honour the everyday faithful departed, the "brick layers" if you like. Without both saints and ordinary faithful souls, the great and the small, there would be no Church today. I was reminded of this truth when visiting Canterbury Cathedral last month. The saints are well known and their stories inspire faith in every age. It was deeply moving to stand on the stone floor where St Thomas à Beckett's blood was spilt in 1170, and later to pray in the crypt where pilgrims had flocked for centuries, drawn by the healing legends of his shrine. But equally moving was a story our guide told of the firewatchers who courageously patrolled the cathedral roofs during the Second World War, some at the cost of their life, as incendiary bombs blitzed the city and cathedral grounds.

All Saints day is particularly poignant for my family as it marks my sister's birthday, and on All Souls day each year we add her name to memorial lists as we remember her death in a climbing accident in 1997. Many of you wrote down last week the names of your loved ones who have died, and they were all read out at yesterday's Requiem Mass. It is a blessed thing indeed to remember together those who have died. Another dear soul we should remember at this time is two-year-old Tanilla Warrick-Deaves, from New South Wales, who was murdered by her mother's boyfriend in 2011 when he lost his temper while trying to toilet train the toddler. Warren Ross is alleged to have said to a friend, "I hit her with an extension cord, a strap, with a wooden spoon, but she just doesn't learn." The abuse went on and it was two days before an ambulance was called, but by then it was too late to save Tanilla.

The teaching of Jesus, the good news of the gospels, is salve for a broken world. It is needed as much today as at any other time in history. We are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, but I sometimes wonder what they think as they look into our lives. Are they bemused by our squabbles and infighting? What do they think of our self-centeredness and pride? Do their hearts break as they see us ignore the Lazarus at our gate or the Tanilla in the house next door? Perhaps they long to see in each one of us the evangelistic zeal of St Francis or the tireless energy and compassion of St Mary MacKillop. Perhaps we will each in humility today open our hearts afresh to that same Holy Spirit, and pray the ancient prayer: "Here I am Lord, send me."

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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