All Saints day

All saints day; stained glass window
Photo was taken at Sacred Heart Parish, Reefton, New Zealand.

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 used 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 and sheep and corn and maize go 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, Billy, Fr O’Grady from the Church had talked to the class about St Brendan’s Cathedral and had shown pictures of St Brendan’s Cathedral, which was here in this city, and so he asked his father whether they could go and have a look inside.

So off they went.

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

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

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

The walls inside were very high, and right 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.

Others he had never heard of, like St Finbar, St Brigid and St Cairan.

As he walked around looking at all the windows, an amazing thing happened.

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 began by asking the children, “Does anyone know what a saint is?”

Up shot 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!!)

Abraham’s three visitors

In the Genesis account the Lord visits Abraham in the form of three men who are apparently angels representing God.

Abraham bows low to the ground before his three visitors and they speak to Abraham in union and are alternatively referred to by the Genesis writer as “they” or “the Lord.”  Abraham offers them the hospitality of foot washing, rest under a shade tree, and a meal and they offered him the announcement that God was going to give he and his wife Sarah a son, though Sarah was far past the age of childbearing.

Symbolism in Rublev’s Icon

In Rublev’s icon painting he depicts the three heavenly visitors sitting at a table with a cup placed before them on the table.  Most scholars understand the figures to be seated left to right in their doxological order of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Others had painted this Biblical story, but Rublev was the first to paint only the three angelic figures and to make them of equal size.  Rublev depicts the three as One Lord.  Each holds a rod in his left hand, symbolizing their equality.  Each wears a cloak of blue, the colour of divinity.  And the face of each is exactly the same, depicting their oneness.

The Father is like the figure on the left.  His divinely blue tunic is cloaked in a colour that is light and almost transparent because he is the hidden Creator.  With his right he blesses the Son – he is pleased with the sacrifice he will make.  His head is the only one that is lifted high and yet his gaze is turned to the other two figures.

The Son is portrayed in the middle figure.  He wears both the blue of divinity and reddish purple of royal priesthood.  He is the King who descends to serve as priest to the people he created and to become part of them.  With his hand he blesses the cup he is to drink, accepting his readiness to sacrifice himself for humanity.  His head is bowed to his Father on the left.

The Spirit is indicated in the figure on the right.  Over his divinely blue tunic he wears a cloak of green, symbolizing life and regeneration.  His hand is resting on the table next to the cup, suggesting that he will be with the Son as he carries out his mission.  His head is inclined toward the Father and the Son.  His gaze is toward the open space at the table.

Notice the beautiful circular movement in the icon of Father, Son, and Spirit?  The Son and the Spirit incline their heads toward the Father, and he directs his gaze back at them.  The Father blesses the Son, the Son accepts the cup of sacrifice, the Spirit comforts the Son in his mission, and the Father shows he is pleased with the Son.  Love is initiated by the Father, embodied by the Son, and accomplished through the Spirit.

Feast of Peter Chanel

What do a Dutchman living in France, an Englishman living in Ireland and a Frenchman living on a Pacific atoll have in common? I suggest two attributes. The first is – they became better known, and one might say ‘famous’ after they had died!

The Dutchman living in France, Vincent Van Gogh, never sold a painting in his lifetime. He would send them to his younger brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris. Theo sent painting materials as well as monthly financial support.

The Englishman living in Ireland, Gerard Manley Hopkins had none of his poems published in his lifetime. Hopkins would send his poems to his long-time friend Robert Bridges.  Bridges became literary executor of Hopkins’ poems, which he kept collectively from the public until 1918, twenty-nine years after his friend’s death, when he edited ‘Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ for publication.

The French man living on a Pacific atoll was Peter Chanel. Father Peter Chanel, a member of the newly formed religious congregation known as the Society of Mary was one of an early group of Catholic missionaries to the South West Pacific which set out from France in December 1836. Father Chanel and a Marist catechist Brother Marie-Nizier were placed on the island of Futuna, north of the Fijian Islands, in November 1837. They both laboured there for three and a bit years. It was a difficult mission: learning the language, coping with isolation, different foods and customs.

On 28th April 1841 Peter Chanel was killed by a group of warriors incited by the leading chief of Futuna, in hatred of the Faith which threatened his control over the people. Following Peter Chanel’s death, the entire island of Futuna converted to the Catholic Faith.

The second common attribute may be more helpful for us – they did their best work away from home!

In a book titled, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” the author, Joseph Campbell presents a ‘monomyth’. Campbell worked in comparative mythology and comparative religion. Campbell explores the theory that mythological narratives frequently share a fundamental structure. The similarities of these myths brought Campbell to write his book in which he details the structure of the monomyth. He calls the motif of the archetypal narrative, “the hero’s adventure”.  The first step in this ‘monomyth’ is that hero/heroine leaves home – that is, leaves a place of safety, security, warmth, nourishment, and familiar social relationships.

A classic example of leaving home is found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, “The Fellowship of the Ring” as Bilbo Baggins sets off, ‘Well, that’s that,’ he said. ‘Now I’m off!’ Bilbo chose his favourite stick from the stand; then he whistled. Three dwarves came out of different rooms where they had been busy.

‘Is everything ready?’ asked Bilbo. ‘Everything packed and labelled?’

‘Everything,’ they answered.

‘Well, let’s start then!’ He stepped out of the front door.

It was a fine night, and the black sky was dotted with stars. He looked up, sniffing the air. ‘What fun! What fun to be off again, off on the Road with dwarves! This is what I have really been longing for, for years! Goodbye!’ he said, looking at his old home and bowing to the door. ‘Goodbye, Gandalf!’

‘Goodbye, for the present, Bilbo. Take care of yourself! You are old enough, and perhaps wise enough.’

‘Take care! I don’t care. Don’t you worry about me! I am as happy now as I have ever been, and that is saying a great deal.

Might those words been on the lips of Peter Chanel as he walked up the gangplank onto the Delphine and sailed from Le Havre, “well let’s start then!.”

The feast of St. Peter Chanel, maybe less about his martyrdom, which few of us will be in a such a position; rather the feast is about daring to leave the security of home – “ well, let’ start then”, and choosing our favourite stick, stepping out the front door, and with Bilbo we sing, ‘the road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began!”

A different view

“An old silent pond . . .

Into the pond a frog jumps.

Splash! Silence again.”

It is perhaps the best known of all Japanese haiku. (A haiku is an unrhymed poem consisting of 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively.)

No subject could be more humdrum.

No language could be more pedestrian.

Basho, the poet, makes no comment on what he is describing. He implies no meaning, message, or metaphor. He simply invites our attention to no more and no less than just this: the old pond in its watery stillness, the kerplunk of the frog, the gradual return of the stillness.

The poet invites us to stop, look, and listen – to pay attention.

The painter does the same thing, of course.

Rembrandt puts a frame around an old woman’s face. It is seamed with wrinkles.

The upper lip is sunken in, the skin waxy and pale.

It is not a remarkable face.

You would not look twice at the old woman if you found her sitting across the aisle from you on a bus.

But it is a face so remarkably seen that it forces you to see it remarkably, just as Cezanne makes you see a bowl of apples or Andrew Wyeth a muslin curtain blowing in at an open window. It is a face, unlike any other face in all the world.

All the faces in the world are in this one old face.

Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot.

In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.

I had the good fortune to visit recently the exhibition named “Michelangelo A Different View. Under the license of the Vatican Museums, this exhibit offers the most complete and authentic reproductions of Michelangelo’s magnificent ceiling frescoes.

What struck me most immediately was not the paintings, rather that the room was silent.

In accord with the current Covid rules, there would have been 100 persons inside the exhibit at a time, and no one was speaking.

The majesty of Michelangelo’s craftmanship indeed had people stopping, looking, and listening.

How can you listen to a piece of art you might well ask?

My reply – step outside for a moment and what do you hear?

A bird in a tree, wind through branches, the sea lapping the shoreline, a hammer hitting a nail, a vehicle changing gear as it climbs a hill!

And, if we stop, look, and listen long enough we may well see and hear new sights and sounds.

On the fresco titled “The Fall and Expulsion From Paradise” Michelangelo combines two successive scenes; the Fall is shown on the left half of the picture, and on the right is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden.

However, when I stopped and looked Michelangelo has Eve taking the fruit of knowledge from the serpent, and has Adam also reaching for fruit from the tree.

Now I am listening!

Look again and the serpent/snake’s upper torso is human!!

Now, I have really stopped and am really looking and endeavouring to stop myself from listening to that small insistent voice inside me saying, “is the tempter inside of you?”

“Oh, go away, don’t be so silly!” So why did I stop, look and listen at that group of paintings the longest?!

Is it too much to say that to stop, look, and listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us?

Listen to history, is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel.

Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power plays, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.

And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbour, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for God.