Homily for All Saints, 1 November 2017

Yesterday afternoon, just before First Vespers of All Saints, our dear Br. Adrian died. I have no intention of anticipating the judgement of the Church and canonising Dom Adrian here and now. Nevertheless, surely there is consolation to be had in the fittingness of his timing. We had a text of St. Paul at Lauds this morning which is appropriate both to the feast, and to Dom Adrian’s passing. May you know, says St. Paul, what is the hope that God’s call holds out to you; how rich is the glory of the heritage he offers among his holy people (Eph 1:18, NJB).

We all have a call, a vocation to heaven; we are all called to live in hope; and our hope is not for something small, but for something very great indeed; for glory beyond imagination, which will be in God, and in the glorious and blissful company of all the Saints.

Dom Adrian, thank God, did not die unprepared, or alone, or uncared for. On the contrary. He received all the Sacraments of the Church: three together last Saturday; then on Sunday holy Communion, which we didn’t then know was his viaticum; then his final anointing, or extreme unction, on Monday night. Whether or not he was aware of it, as he lay in his High Dependency Ward, for the most part unconscious, he was surrounded by prayer, from both far away and near at hand. In fact, the prayers for the dying came to be recited several times over, as brethren came to sit by his bedside in relays. Most fittingly, these prayers invoke the presence, and example, and encouragement, and help, and prayer, of All the Saints.

The Litany first of all. After addressing God the Holy Trinity, and asking for his mercy, the Litany turns in the first place to our Lady, asking for her prayer. Then St. Michael and all the Angels; then Abel the just, and all the Saints of the Old Testament: Abraham and the Patriarchs and Moses and the Prophets, culminating in St. John the Baptist, and in St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin and special patron of the dying. Then on to SS. Peter and Paul and the other Apostles and Evangelists and Disciples of the Lord; then St. Stephen the first martyr, and all the martyrs who followed through the centuries, not forgetting of course St. Adrian of May. Then the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church, named one by one; and our own holy Father St. Benedict, and all the holy Benedictine monks and nuns who followed him. Then other great Saints of history like St. Francis of Assisi, who as a matter of fact is popularly associated with love for animals; then the special Saints of the sick, like Camillus and John of God; then all holy monks and holy hermits of the whole Church, East and West. Then the many holy women among all the Saints: martyrs, virgins, widows; mothers of children; queens like St. Margaret of Scotland, and the holy women who were mystics and teachers of prayer. Then, since there was plenty of time to mention them, the patrons of all Dom Adrian’s brethren who went to God before him, and of Helen Grant, and the special patrons of farmers and gardeners, and of Church music, and Church organists; and the patrons and Saints of the communities of Prinknash, Farnborough and Pluscarden.

After the litany, other prayers from the ritual roll out, ad libitum, on and on, one after another. And as the names of the Saints were mentioned again, I at least was struck by how thrilling it is boldly to invoke such very great, eminent, holy, famous, blissful, perfected people. But that is what the communion of the Church is about. Yes, we dare to presume that even - or especially - the very greatest Saints will indeed be interested in this little scene; that when we invoke them they will respond; that they will look down in compassion and love on this hospital bed, and will indeed hear the prayers we make for this man as he lies, struggling and suffering, between life and death.

One of the prayers in the ritual goes like this.

“May holy Michael the Archangel of God receive him; Michael who merited to be Prince of the heavenly host. May all the holy Angels of God come to meet him, and bring him to the heavenly City of Jerusalem. May Blessed Peter the Apostle receive him, to whom the keys of the heavenly Kingdom were given by God. May St. Paul the Apostle help him, who was worthy to be called a vessel of election. May St. John, the chosen Apostle of God, intercede for him; John, to whom were revealed the secrets of heaven. May all the holy Apostles pray for him, to whom were given by the Lord the power of binding and loosing. May all the Saints and elect of God intercede for him, who for the name of Christ underwent great sufferings in this life; so that, freed at last from the bonds of the flesh, Dom Adrian may deserve to reach the glory of the heavenly Kingdom, as opened up for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.”

Allow me to mention one more prayer which was said by Dom Adrian’s bedside yesterday morning, I don’t know how many times:

“To you I fly, Saint Joseph, patron of the dying, at whose blessed transitus Jesus and Mary kept loving vigil. To you I commend the soul of Dom Adrian, now so distressingly labouring in his final agony. By your protection may he be kept wholly free from the snares of the devil, and from perpetual death, so that he may come at last with you to eternal joy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

A couple of weeks ago I was visiting Dom Adrian in hospital, and the conversation drifted around to the subject of death. He expressed some anxiety about meeting St. Benedict. “I don’t think I’ve been a very good monk”, he said. Well: who among us could say differently? Nevertheless, Dom Adrian was a Benedictine monk, and a son of St. Benedict, to the end. He took his solemn vows, and he remained in them until his death. And St. Benedict, we know, had very special concern for the weaker brethren. He was not over anxious when confronted in the monastery by human frailty, or by rather odd characters, or even by the occasional slight eccentricity. What matters, for St. Benedict, is that “by persevering in the monastery until death, we may share by patience in the sufferings of Christ, so that we may deserve at last to be sharers in his Kingdom. Amen.”