“There are some places
where the veil
between heaven and earth
is gossomer thin”
Not too long ago a book was published promoting a perhaps well-intentioned but certainly misguided way forward for faithful Christians. The writer, distressed at the loss of many moral battles in an increasingly secular world, suggests that Christians must now ensure their own salvation by retreating into religiously secure communes and sever ties with the world.
Note that I used and emphasised the word “misguided” in that paragraph. The writer is (at best) misguided.
Christians do not retreat from the world. Instead, as on this little three-day Food For Faith retreat, we seek to engage with Jesus in the reality of our lives. If there is any aspect of retreating it is only a stepping back from what is superficial and fleeting, avoiding mirages which are powerless to deliver the hope and satisfaction that only Jesus Christ, God-with-us, can provide.
This is because our belief is not in a God who is distant, living in far off and unattainable heavens. Instead our faith is in the God who in Jesus Christ is present, active, real and now, available to all who seek the divine in the midst of often difficult and unwelcome circumstances.
It is perhaps easy on this feast to focus on a future world, forgetting that there are places and moments on earth where the veil between heaven and earth is gossomer thin.
So on this Feast of All Saints I am moved by Pope Francis’ care for those who are seeking hope in life and death situations in our own neighbourhoods and across the globe. The pope’s passion in prompted by his mature appreciation of the breadth of Catholic understanding of the Communion of Saints.
We are sisters and brothers in one human family. Today’s feast reminds us of the beauty and power of such perspective. We are not alone. We are intimately united now and for eternity with all who live, all who have lived and all who will ever live. While our common home in the future will be an eternal paradise, the earth we share today, inherited from our ancestors, is now borrowed from our children.
Within weeks of his election in 2013 Pope Francis made a visit to Lampedusa on the south coast of Italy where many of our sisters and brothers seek to make landfall after crossing from Africa just 60 miles south across an unpredictable and often treacherous Mediterranean. On his visit he reflected:
“Immigrants dying at sea, in boats which were vehicles of hope and became vehicles of death. That is how the headlines put it. When I first heard of this tragedy a few weeks ago, and realised that it happens all too frequently, it has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart. So I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated. Please, let it not be repeated! … The Church is at your side as you seek a more dignified life for yourselves and your families.
And this next paragraph powerfully encourages us to once again find our bearings. A perfect reflection for All Saints.
“God’s two questions echo even today, as forcefully as ever! How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.
The image above is of the sculpture in St Peter’s Square unveiled in 2019 by Pope Francis and dedicated to migrants and refugees.
Click the image below to watch a beautifully produced one-hour movie which helps us to appreciated the passion of Pope Francis outlined in his 2015 letter Laudato Si.
And our prayer for this feast of All Saints is the concluding prayer from Francis’ letter:
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognise that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
…and don’t forget this powerful movie
when you feel like an hour’s inspiration.