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The challenge of holiness

02 November 2012

IS HOLINESS on the up? It can have many manifestations, including social works and evangelistic efforts; but one is the appetite for worship. Many churches will transfer the observance of All Saints' Day to next Sunday this year, for want of sufficient communicants willing to make a worthy celebration at the Lord's table yesterday. When church attendance for such an encouraging occasion is not felt worth the inconvenience on a weekday, a question is bound to be raised about many Christians' priorities. Is it that people are busy, or that they choose not to be in the business of holiness?

It is a question rarely faced without appearing to scold; but it is as important as that of the secular observance of Hallowe'en, which has recently developed an octave (at least) of its own, extending back into October, as shops and pubs sprout shrouds and skeletons, and public transport fills with greasepaint ghouls. Many Hallowe'en activities may in themselves be harmless; but the energy and expense that go into this masquerade, while few are conscious of the festival whose eve it is, suggests that, once again, priorities are topsy-turvy.

So this sombre month is made to begin more sombrely than it need, not with the feast of the victories of the People of God - the majority who are not named in the Church's calendar - over sin and doubt and even the most terrible incitements to deny their faith, but with Christians' failures; for what is All Souls' Day but the liturgical recognition that we all have a great deal of baggage to lose before we are ready for heaven? This, too, is the day of the unknown, unremembered, even the "anonymous", Christian; for, despite all those lists of "family and friends", it takes the larger view, reflecting the petition in the 1662 Prayer Book that "we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins and all other benefits of his Passion."

This is a eucharistic matter. The Anima Christi concludes: "In the hour of my death call me and bid me come to thee, that with thy saints I may praise thee, for ever and ever." Father Andrew SDC, an Anglican spiritual writer, missioner, and guide of souls, meditating on this prayer (in The Soul's Discipleship, 1936), reflected that "the real end of the Incarnation of our Lord . . . was that God might be glorified in human nature. It was to give back to God through a human nature in perfect tune the supreme melody that had been wanting in the worship of creation. It was because our Lord did this that He became the Saviour of the world. The end and object of our life is to give glory to God, not to save souls. There ought to be no souls needing salvation, and yet, without souls to save, many bustling Christians would be without occupation, for they have never learnt to find in the worship of God the end of life. While they have found a pleasure in work for God, God Himself they have not known."

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