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Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints: Remembering the ordinary foot-slogging Christians

Icon for All Saints'.
Christ is enthroned in the centre surrounded by the angels and saints,
Paradise is at the bottom, with the 
Bosom of Abraham (left) and the Good Thief (right) holding his cross.
Today, 1 November is All Saints' Day and tomorrow is All Souls' Day. I have always had a special place in my heart for these two days. There is something about them which touches me in a personal way. For me, All Saints and All Souls is about the countless ordinary folk who have 'done their bit' so to speak in their day. People, like you and me, about whom a book will never be written or who will not be remembered for anything in particular. It is easy to remember those who have become famous or indeed infamous. However, that is not the whole story. Today and tomorrow we remember those who are well known to the world and those who were known and continue to be loved by us.

St Etchen's Church, Killucan
I was thinking of this yesterday as I sat with my family in St Etchen's Church, Killucan, Co. Westmeath. This is a very special church for us. It was where we were married and it holds the memories of many special times and some sad ones too. Four years ago the funeral of a close friend of mine took place there. I say close friend because Rob Whiteside, who was also my Father-in-law was to me someone who was first and foremost a friend. I thought of him a lot yesterday when I was back in St Etchen's and consider him amongst the great cloud of witnesses. Rob was very human and had his faults -we all do- but he was someone who incarnated for me extraordinary goodness. He had the great gift of being able to see the best in people without being naieve about reality. He was an eternal optimist, a fantastic father to my wife Heather and her siblings and an inspirational grandfather -albeit for too short a time- to his grandchildren. I think I missed him most of all for them yesterday. The stories he loved to tell them, the games he loved to play with them and so on.  Rob was someone who inspired hope and he lived it. Although he was very honest about his dying when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged 60, he radiated hope. During a trip to the Taizé Community in France a few months before he died, he crawled on his arms and knees to the front of the chapel during one of the prayer services to have a prayer said -not for himself- but for someone special to him. I will never forget this image: true pilgrimage. 

As we celebrate All Saints and All Souls we can feel particularly close to those whom we love but see no longer. We can more easily at this time of year dare to step outside the confining bounds of time and space to taste and experience something much bigger than ourselves.

Who are the important ones who have inspired you, encouraged you, nurtured you, loved you? Remember them today. I am remembering Rob today and indeed all those I have been privileged to care for in ministry.
They may never be remembered in history: that doesn't matter.
They are precious to God, to me and to you. 

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