Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 44:1-14
The tradition of All Saints Day, which we celebrate today, traces its history back to the sixth century. At that time Pope Boniface consecrated the infamous Pantheon at Rome to become a place for the solemn remembrance of Christian martyrs. So many hundreds and hundreds of Christians had been killed in the Pantheon before cheering spectators during the first three centuries of the church. Curiously, last night, Halloween – with its tricks or treats and costumes and fires – is connected to this holy day. The name “Halloween” comes from the Middle English halowen which means “hallowed” or “holy one.” And so Halloween is the evening before All Hallows Day, i.e., All Saints Day. Now hold that thought for a moment.
Why does “the Eve” – the evening before a significant day – matter? Why All Hallows Eve? (For that matter, why Christmas Eve?) The most important reason traces its way back to the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis. A new day begins in the evening, not in the morning. In the creation account, we read that “God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”i And then, “there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” And then, “there was evening and there was morning, the third day,” and so on. Did you catch that? Evening, then morning constitutes a day. If you and I were describing a full day, we would start with the morning, which then progresses to the evening. But that is not the chronology of the Genesis creation account. The day beginning with the evening is a practice still observed by both Muslims and Jews. For Muslims, Friday’s day of rest begins with sundown Thursday; for Jews, the sabbath day on Saturday begins with sundown on Friday. Here at the monastery, if you join us in the chapel for Saturday Evensong, we call this “The First Evensong of Sunday,” which are examples in the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions how the night belongs to the day that follows.
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12, 23-28, 32-12:2; Psalm 37:28-36; Matthew 22:23-32
When we brothers were on pilgrimage to the UK a little over a year ago, we stayed at Keble College while in Oxford. Among the prominent features of Keble College is its chapel. It is not that there is anything outstanding in its architecture that makes it stand out, but rather, once you walk through the doors you are thrown into a sort of sensory overload, especially because all around the perimeter of the chapel are beautiful, multi-colored mosaics. Once you get over the initial shock and begin to study the mosaics, you will note that most of the scenes portrayed are from the Old Testament. You see Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph, and others. It may seem odd at first to experience a Christian chapel that predominantly features scenes from the Old Testament. That is until you take a closer look and note that in each of the scenes there is a thinly veiled reference to Jesus Christ.
In the image of Noah we see a dove flying between the Ark and the rainbow, a symbol of the Holy Spirit hovering over both the waters of Creation and of the waters of Baptism. Directly below that we see in the story of Abraham the priest Melchizadek offering bread and wine, the emblematic food of the Christian, the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.[i] And as you go around the chapel observing these mosaics you can see that Jesus is subtly there and that each story from the Old Testament is giving a knowing nod to the Word (sometimes referred to as the Wisdom of God), who the prologue of John’s gospel says was present in the beginning with God. For the leaders of the Oxford Movement, the Old Testament is “one vast prophetic system, veiling, but full of the New Testament,” and, more specifically, “of the One whose presence is stored up within it.”[ii]
Anselm of Canterbury, Kind-hearted Theologian
Romans 5:1-11, Matthew 11:25-30
Do you ever wonder how you will be remembered after you are gone? Have you ever given any thought to how you want to be remembered? Someone has said that what people will remember about us is not so much what we said and did, but how they felt when they were in our presence.
Today we remember one of the Church’s great theologians, Anselm of Canterbury. Anselm was born in northern Italy in 1033. He was intellectually curious, but also devout. At the age of 17, he entered the Benedictine abbey of Bec in Normandy and gradually grew in reputation and status until he became its Abbot. After a long and memorable tenure as Abbot of Bec, Anselm was pressured to become the Archbishop of Canterbury when he was about 60 years old, a position he embraced reluctantly but in which he was very effective.
Anselm is best remembered as a brilliant theologian, and primarily for two important works:
He was an exponent of what was called the “ontological” argument for the existence of God and posited that God is “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” Since the greatest thing that can be thought must have existence as one of its properties, Anselm argued that God exists and is not dependent upon the material world for verification.
I Peter 5:1-4
The Christian life is a life of transformation. The call to follow Christ is a call to a lifelong process of conversion. It requires us to let go of our former identities – built on our gifts, our achievements, and our social standing – in order to embrace a new identity in Christ. It asks us to set aside our selfish goals and pursuits to take on a new set of priorities and values. It invites us to become changed people: people whose lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and humility. It summons us to treat every person we meet with dignity and respect, seeing that they too are made in the image of God. “If anyone is in Christ,” writes St. Paul, “there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, there is a new creation!” (II Cor. 5:17)
St. Elizabeth touched so many hearts by her generosity and holiness of life that she was canonized four years after her death. She was only 24 years old when she died in 1231. She was born in 1207, a daughter of the King of Hungary. When Elizabeth was 14 she was married to Louis IV, Landgrave of Thuringia. When she was 16 and two years into her marriage, she was deeply inspired by some Franciscan friars who had appeared on the scene (St. Francis was still living at the time). With the encouragement of her husband she took up charitable work and some of the disciplines of the religious life.
The story is told from India about a woman who came with her young son to have a conversation with Mahatma Gandhi. This mother was concerned about her son’s attraction to sweets: he ate them all the time and they were rotting his teeth and ruining his health, she said. Would Gandhi speak with her son, she asked? Gandhi paused to consider the request, and then said, yes, he would… in four days’ time. The days passed and again the mother appeared at Gandhi’s home, this time with her nine-year old son. Gandhi asked the mother if he could speak with the boy alone. He invited the boy to sit down with him on the floor of his porch.