All Saints Day

Billy O’Leary was seven and lived in a very small village miles from anywhere and anyone.

The village had a general store which sold just about everything, a small school, and a small Church.

Billy’s father was the teacher at the school, the only teacher, so Billy use to say his father was the Headteacher.

One day, Billy’s father had to travel to the city for business reasons and invited Billy to travel with him.

Billy was excited for two reasons: he had heard his parents talk of the city and yet had no idea where it was, and second, it meant travelling on the train, which Billy had never done.

The day arrived, and Billy presented himself at breakfast in his Sunday best. He and his father walked to the train station and duly caught the train.

Billy sat by the window and watched cows, sheep, corn, and maize whizzing by.

When his father had finished his business, he asked Billy if there were anything he would like to do.

Now, back at school,  Fr O’Grady from the Church had talked to the class about St Brendan’s Cathedral and had shown pictures of the Cathedral in this city, so he asked his father whether they could go and look inside.

So off they went.

Now St Brendan’s was a very, very, very old cathedral, built when in some countries there were still kings and queens and princes and princesses and knights in armour and ladies in waiting.

Inside, the cathedral was dark and cold and kind of spooky.

Billy was slightly scared, and a shiver ran through his body, so he held his father’s hand tight as they walked around.

The walls inside were very high; at the top there were stained glass windows all the way around.

Each window had a saint’s name.

Some Billy knew: St Patrick, of course, the twelve apostles, and St Brendan.

He had never heard of others like St Finbar, St Brigid and St Ciarán.

An amazing thing happened as he walked around looking at all the windows.

Outside, the clouds broke, and the sun streamed through the stained-glass windows, and suddenly, the inside of the church was bathed in light.

Billy let go of his father’s hand and walked confidently on his own.

The following day at school, Fr O’Grady from the town Church came to the school to prepare the children for the coming feast of All Saints.

He asked the children, “Does anyone know what a saint is?”

Upshot Billy’s hand and he waved it about with enthusiasm.

Fr O’Grady could not help but notice the enthusiastic waving, and besides, there was no other hand raised seeking the priest’s attention.

“Yes, Billy, do you know what a saint is? Tell us now.”

“Father,” spoke Billy with confidence, “it is someone who lets the sun in and lights up the whole Church.”

(If you want to, you may spell the word either sun or Son.)

A Parable of the Lifesaving Station

The illustration is a Lifeboat Station, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, Ireland, early 1900s.

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station.

The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost.

Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, and new crews trained.

The little life-saving station grew.

Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped.

They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea.

They replaced the emergency stretchers with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club.

Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work.

The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held.

About this time, a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet and half-drowned people.

They were dirty and sick.

The beautiful new club was in chaos.

So, the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership.

Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club.

Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station.

But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station.

So, they did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same
changes that had occurred in the old.

It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore.

Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

– by Dr Theodore Wedel

The illustration is a Lifeboat Station, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, Ireland, early 1900s. Date: early 1900s

Open a vein – thoughts on preaching

Until this morning, I had never heard of “Red” Smith!

Now I know that he is Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith ( 1905 – 1982) and that he was an American sportswriter. Smith’s journalistic career spans over five decades and his work influenced an entire generation of writers. Smith became the second sports columnist ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1976.

In a book he wrote titled, “To Absent Friends”, Smith wrote, “Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein”.

As a fellow writer, the author, Frederick Buechner, comments on the quote, and as I read Buechner’s comments I kept thinking about preaching!

Below is Buechner’s thoughts; I have interpolated the word “preach” following the word write,

Write [preach]about what you really care about is what he is saying.

Write [preach] about what truly matters to you—not just things to catch the eye of the world but things to touch the quick of the world the way they have touched you to the quick, which is why you are writing[preaching] about them.

Write [preach] not just with wit and eloquence and style and relevance but with passion.

Then the things that your books [homilies] make happen will be things worth happening —things that make the people who read [hear] them a little more passionate themselves for their pains, by which I mean a little more alive, a little wiser, a little more beautiful, a little more open and understanding, in short a little more human.

I believe that those are the best things that books [sermons].

An only child

In his autobiography, “An Only Child” the Irish writer Frank O’Connor recounts the following story:

One Christmas Santa Claus brought me a toy engine.

As it was the only present I had received, I took it with me to the convent, and played with it on the floor while Mother and “the old nuns” discussed old times.

But a young nun brought us in to see the crib.

When I saw the Holy Child in the manger, I was very distressed because little as I had, he had nothing at all.

For me, it was fresh proof of the incompetence of Santa Claus – an elderly man who hadn’t even remembered to give the Infant Jesus a toy and who should have retired long ago.

I asked the young nun politely if the Holy Child didn’t like toys, and she replied composedly enough:

“Oh, he does, but his mother is too poor to afford them”.

That settled it.

My mother was poor too, but at Christmas, she at least managed to buy me something, even if it was only a box of crayons.

I distinctly remember getting into the crib and putting the engine between his outstretched arms.

I probably showed him how to wind it as well because a small baby like that would not be clever enough to know.

I remember too, the tearful feeling of reckless generosity with which I left him there in the nightly darkness of the chapel, clutching my toy engine to his chest.