In this beautiful homily for All Saints’ Day, Father Hanly tells the story of the candelabra.
Readings for the Solemnity of All Saints
- First Reading: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
- Second Reading: First John 3:1-3
- Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
This is a very complicated Feast, I think for me it is anyhow, because I was always, for many years, as a child especially, under the impression that All Saints’ Day is a celebration of all those wonderful saints that the sisters used to teach us about – Saint Francis of Assisi and the different saints that we were named after. These were people that were considered the highest level of holiness and sanctity.
And I’ve always felt that it was wonderful to be able to see them dazzling way up there in the sky, but I wouldn’t be able to do it, you know? You came away saying, “Well, that’s for somebody else because it’s not for me.”
And then I came across Saint Paul, a few years back, and Saint Paul was talking to the people of Philippi. Philippi is one of the many places that Saint Paul went to preach the Gospel and made many converts.
Now these people were kind of rough and ready people. They were from kind of a Greek culture, still they were very questionable people. But Saint Paul says, “Give my regards to all the saints,” and “Greet the saints,” and, “I’m happy to talk to you, the saints.” And he’s using this word ‘saint’. And I’m saying, all these people can’t all have been born just so holy. And of course not.
Because Saint Paul knows what a saint is. A saint is someone God has created, that God loves. God does not make junk; He only makes lovely things.
And when Paul speaks like that, he’s saying to us all: no matter how you feel about yourself, no matter what your past is, no matter how much you have done maybe to feel embarrassed by your own actions, God still says you are His saints, His holy ones, because sainthood depends on God’s presence, and God’s creative presence has made us. And no matter how we try to walk away from it, we can’t because we are the saints, the children of God.
Then, of course, there is this problem that we seem to be maybe committing all kinds of behaviour that we’re really not too happy about, and that makes us doubt our own … the thing that God wants us to see ourselves as He sees it.
You know the Chinese expression (Father says something in Cantonese). It means that we have the name because we’re blessed by God and we have the name of sainthood, but (Father repeats the last two words) means that our activity varies a great deal from what we should be doing.
A few months ago, we celebrated the Easter Vigil ceremony and it was in English in the Hall, so we had to make the Hall a little bit of a church. And we found a little altar for the tabernacle and I was looking all around for, I was looking for some candles to put on this altar because the Easter flowers were there and it was very, very pretty and very beautiful.
Anyhow, it was all very nice, but I couldn’t find a decent candle, you see. I mean you could get the little red ones, the little white ones, but they were kind of not up to Easter, for some reason.
So I was talking to Ah Keung, our sacristan, and he brought me back to the church there. Behind the church we have where we keep not only all the sacred vessels that look beautiful, but we also keep where we throw things back and rather than throw them away we put them in cupboards.
So he shows me one of these. And he’s taking down these kind of candelabras, do you know. A candelabra is maybe four candles set together.
Anyhow he brings back this piece of junk. I mean it was filthy. It was just awful. And I said, “What do you want me to do with this? You know we can’t use this out there, it’s not worthy.”
And then he gave me a cloth and the two of us sat down and we started shining it and taking the years of blackness off it.
And it turns out that it’s silver — beautiful, beautiful, shining silver.
And it took us about two hours, and out of it came this lovely, most beautiful candelabra, and so we used it for the sacred rites of Baptism and for the Easter Vigil.
So, if you feel a little bad sometimes about yourself, you might feel, because you are just looking at the outer crustation of many things that happen, and you just need a very little wipe and you’ll shine like silver because what you are is the candelabra and that is the important thing.
But what’s even more important is not to look at yourself — because some of us feel pretty good.
But when you look at other people and you begin to judge them, you must remember that everyone that God creates is sacred, is a saint, is worthy of respect, is worthy of Jesus kneeling down and washing their feet.
Because they are indeed filled with the life of God and they are, in their essence, the lovely candelabra, whether or not it has seen tougher times and the inner meaning of it is covered in some of the dusty earth that we have inhabited.
So I think if there is one thought that I would like you all to take away is, remember, saints are not just people up in the sky that we love to be named after.
And we follow them because they are the models.
Models of what?
The only reason a saint becomes one of those saints, recognised by everybody, canonised by the Church, is because they gave examples of loving, love, God’s love, and they were great at it.
Not because of any other reason: no miracles, no wonders, no wonderful sermons, nothing except they loved the people that came into their lives and loved them with God’s love.
And because it was God’s love, the love of God shines through in their lives.
Now, this indeed is a wonderful thing, but the saints recognised that everyone who entered into their lives was like shining and mirroring God’s love.
And that is what we want to do today: not only treasure and praise the great saints who have been our great models through the years, but, most of all, we want to remember all the forgotten saints — the people who raised us, the people told us funny stories, the people who wiped our tears, the people who walked a few steps when we thought we couldn’t walk any further.
People, ordinary people, people of the earth, people who if you said, “You’re a saint!” they would feel ashamed and say, “Oh no, not me.” And that’s the first sign of a saint: they don’t see themselves as saints.
So, I’d like to close this by just reading…
Before that though, tomorrow is All Souls’ Day.
I sometimes tell these endless stories about all the funny people in my life when I was a child, you see. And one of the reasons I tell those stories is not because they’re funny and because they are attractive, but because all these people, these people tomorrow is their day.
We pray for all the souls. We pray for all those who are still journeying perhaps to eternal life, but also we pray for those who are already there but are unnamed, not canonized, but certainly they fill the heavens.
Even in the First Reading, they say there was armies and armies of people from all nations. And these were the great saints that Revelations sees marching to and with and for eternal joy.
And now there’s a little a poem that I would like to, it’s an anonymous one, but this is his tribute to All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day.
The saints are like windows.
Through them the light of God’s wisdom
streams into the world,
banishing the darkness
and brightening the road for uncertain travellers.
Through them the warmth of God’s love
radiates throughout the world,
banishing the coldness,
warming the hearts of even the most forlorn of his creatures.
And through them we catch a glimpse for a moment of another world,
a world that lies not just beyond the walls of our eternal home,
but even beyond the stars.
So the next time you pray for all those aunties and uncles and people that have filled your life and made you what you are today and need and owe, you owe them to keep them in your memory, especially tomorrow, as well as today.
And remember that you are not the tarnished piece of junk that came out of the closet, you are indeed, seen through the eyes of Jesus and the eyes of God, that beautiful and shining and radiant light to the world.
The Easter Masses were celebrated in the Hall as the church was needed for the Chinese Masses. To make up, Father Hanly made a special effort to decorate the Hall and make it feel welcoming.