‘Do not be afraid’. The Bible tells us ‘Do not be afraid’ 365 times apparently – one for every day of the year. It is one of the phrases Jesus repeats again and again.
‘Do not be afraid’.
Not because we are promised an easy ride. He tells His disciples to expect hardship and danger and rejection. They will leave the upper room after the day of Pentecost and trekk the known world to die, most of them horribly, in far away places. They had very good reason to be afraid!
Yet Jesus says do not be afraid. Not because it wouldn’t be pretty awful at times, but because they would never again be alone. Never again would the loneliness that eats away at the heart of man have the final world. Christ has come, and will come again. In the meantime God’s Holy Spirit is here. The seal of the promise of glory.
‘Do not be afraid. It will be awful, but you are never alone. I will be with you’. ‘And however awful it gets, I am bringing you Home, where dust and ashes, death and sadness have no more dominion’. ‘Do not be afraid’.
We are reminded in tonight’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews that it was this perseverance that kept Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah and the rest of the heroic Jews of old going.
St John Paul II lived under Nazi occupation as a young man in southern Poland. He then endured Communism. He knew a great deal about death and fear and darkness. But he quoted Jesus and added His own words. He said ‘Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium’.
On this Feast of All Saints we give thanks to God for all those who have gone before us, in whose lives we have glimpsed God’s grace. The Church has said of some, so strong was the light of Christ in her or him we are sure that they are home already. The rest of us on our journey still – whether on this side of death or the other – can use them as lanterns to light the path as we follow Jesus home.
You may have your favourite saints. I hope you do. If you don’t, get googling. You’re missing out on a whole host of heavenly friends. We all need friends, here and in heaven. Talk to them, learn from them, be encouraged and accompanied by them. They are cheering us on day by day.
But they aren’t all medieval monks and 2nd Century virgins.
‘Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium’.
St John Paul (himself a modern saint) reminds us that we are all called to be saints. That call was placed upon us when we were baptized. From the moment of our Baptism we were called home, to join St Francis and Edward, Theresa and John, the Apostles and Evangelists, and martyrs and the rest. Because that is our true home.
So we will be saints. But we are called to be saints now. What does this mean?
The saints were not perfect. Far from it. The saints were not good, certainly not all the time.
What they were, were people who knew that the most real and important thing in the world was God. Everything else that matters, matters because it matters to God.
They knew that a life journeying with Jesus, in prayer and sacrament, and loving relationships and good work, was to really live. And they failed and fell and doubted like we all do. But they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus – the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. On the hope to which we have been called.
They didn’t try to be Holy, they tried to keep their eyes, and hearts and lives fixed on Jesus. And by this, they became, day by day, Holy.
If we try and shine, we will only shine with our own dim and lonely light. If we draw near to Jesus in all that we are and all that we do, His light will overcome us and light the way for others.
Thank God for all His Saints. Thank God for their prayers and help day by day.
Surrounded by them, let us draw near to Jesus; in prayer and Sacrament at the heart of our lives, in loving relationships and good works. Let us draw near to Jesus, cast away our fears and doubts, and be not afraid to shine with His light, Saints, to the glory of God our Father.