Homily for the Feast of All Saints of the Order November 13, 2013
Readings: Sirach 44: 1-10 (Now will I praise those godly men and women, our ancestors, each in their own time);
Matthew 19: 16-21 (the rich young man who went away sad because he had great wealth)
In recent years the continuing archaeological dig at Fort Jamestown, the first English settlement in the new world discovered the remains of the first church within the fort. Any doubts about the identification of the building were dispelled when several gravesites were unearthed both within the foundation walls of the building and immediately next to those walls. It was pointed out that for centuries burial under the floor of churches was common and the preferred grave site of Christians. In the last decade a major renovation of our abbey Wilten in Innsbruck was undertaken and under the floor of the present church was found not only the graves of Norbertines but those of earlier monastics going back to the time when the site was the Roman military camp named Vildemia.
Under the floor of virtually every medieval chapter room of monastic men and women are the bodies of the abbots and abbesses of those communities. Our ghosts are not in our closets. They are under our floors. They may rest their unrecognized but they are not hidden. And on a day like today we want to recognize them in thanksgiving and pray that we may carry on their good work and, indeed, surpass them – for that was as much their desire as it is for those who will succeed us and in a metaphorical sense walk upon our graves without recognizing our underground presence.
Sirach 44 is a text inspired to engage in such an exercise. It is a call for women and men in the Spirit to praise their ancestors because their forbears knew themselves called to glorify God by service to God’s People.
– They subdued the land (the men and women of Averbode – both originally double cloisters – that transformed the marsh lands of the Kempen in Belgium into rich arable land).
– They were counselors of prudence and seers of all things in prophecy (the pastors of Schlägl in Upper Austria who since 1204 have ministered to what were originally pioneering settlements).
– Resolute rulers of the folk and governors with their staves (the abbots of Strahov and Tepla who sat in the parliaments of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire).
– Authors skilled in composition (Ladislaus Mecs of Gödöllo, one of Hungary’s greatest 20th century poets).
– Composers of melodious psalms (Matthias Van den Elsen, Ambrose Dobbelsteen, Dutch missionaries to America, pastors and musicians).
– Thus stalwart, solidly established and at peace in their own estates…glorious in their times…illustrious in their day. Some of them have left behind a name (St. Siard tomorrow, November 14).
– But of others there is no memory….Yet these also were godly people whose virtues have not been forgotten.
Why is there no memory of them?
Because they were willing to let go of what they might have achieved if their primary focus was to “leave behind a name” so that people might recount their praiseworthy deeds.
If this day did not exist we would need to invent it in the hope that in celebrating the memory of woman and men whose names we do not know we might recommit ourselves to live out of our belief that ultimately our renown is in God alone and that being solidly established and at peace in this place together, we can change landscapes, redirect kingdoms,inspire hearts and minds through the arts, guide others in ways of wisdom, justice and peace – in other words, be and act for the life of the world.
Brothers and sisters, we all walk upon the graves of women and men whose mortal remains will never be recognized by us. But we are here around Word and Table this morning because they are alive in us in Christ and because someday we want to hear the footsteps of others who will not know our names as they celebrate this feast.