Wednesday 1 November 2023

Friends in heaven

One of our Fathers tells a lovely story about a friend of his who lived in Munich. Whenever her landlady had some kind of problem she would say “I must go and speak to Father Rupert about this”. Who was this priest who was able to solve all her landlady’s problems and was the immediate port of call amidst the daily ups and downs of her life? It turned out that the said priest had been dead for some fifty years and what the landlady was doing was going to pray at the tomb of Blessed Rupert Mayer in the Burgersaalkirche. That is a wonderful illustration of what our friendship should be with the saints: they are our familiar friends to whom we take the concerns of our lives and they are the examples we seek to imitate — those burning furnaces of divine love from which we can keep the spark of charity aflame in our own heart by approaching, through them, that wonderful light in which they dwell.

We will all have our favourite saints, those friends whose lives, or names, or patronages, or examples, seem to stretch out to us like the invitation of an old and trusted friend, someone to help us and show us the way. They are those lights of the world which cannot be covered over, those cities built on mountaintops which cannot be hidden. We know and we love those saints who are so well known to all Catholics: above all Our Lady, St Joseph, the Apostles, St Francis, St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Philip… But there are the more obscure ones too whose lights shine no less brightly and whose intercession is no less sure. I once knew a person who preferred to entrust their prayers to the intercession of obscure 19th century beati “because they were less busy”. I’m not sure about that, but a saint is a saint, and they all want to help us. We have All Saints because sometimes, whilst their light burns brightly in heaven, their life on earth was more obscure, or simply they haven’t been officially canonised. Blessed Dominic Barberi famously preached “let us all be saints, but not canonised ones — that is too expensive”. November 1st therefore gives us that opportunity to pray to them all, known and unknown, those of popular devotion and those whose names are known to God alone but all of whom belong to him, and hence to us, the Church.

Monsignor Knox wrote “[The Church] chooses an excellent day for it; the first day of November, when the year has definitely turned to autumn, and the leaves have fallen, and the weather is for the most part rather depressing, either wetter or colder than we quite want it to be. Because it is then that we like staying indoors, and sitting at the fireside, if there’s one to sit by; and there’s a kind of snug feeling about coming in out of the misty twilight and drawing the curtains across the windows, which helps us to think about the saints in heaven, so snug there, with all the painful struggles of their earthly life behind them. To be sure, it is nice to be out on a November afternoon; but it is still nicer to come in at the end of the afternoon, and shut the world out from us. And the saints are happy, even in this world, in spite of all their uncomfortable goings on. But happier still when they leave this world, and draw the curtains of heaven round them.”

That is what all the saints do. They draw us home. And of course there are those destined for Heaven but who still have purgatory to undergo and that is why the very next day we pray for them all. We show those whom we have loved and lost that we love them still because we pray for them, and particularly we give them the most a human being can — we offer Mass for them. Just as the saints in Heaven help us, so we can help the Holy Souls on their way to Heaven too, and what a beautiful and consoling teaching that is. Every man, woman, and child is our neighbour and so we love them all as we pray for the Holy Souls. In the grief of our own bereavements, whether still raw or become a loss we have learnt to bear, the Church gives us All Souls as a reminder of the duty of charity we owe them, our ability to show that charity still, but so too as a remembrance of the sure and certain hope offered by our Faith: a reminder too that one day we shall die — and then? as St Philip was wont to say — well, that is up to us, not for then, but for now. The great thing then, as Our Holy Father again would say, is to become saints…