Friday 5 November 2021

The Feast of All Saints

During November, the Book of Remembrance will rest on the altar in Dalton Chapel.

The month of November is a time within the Church when we especially remember and pray for those who have died. We commenced this month with our celebration of All Saints Day on 1 November, a day when we remember liturgically all those who we believe enjoy the vision of Christ in heaven. This includes not only those who are officially recognised by the Universal Church as saints, for example, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, but also those family members and friends who led lives of obvious holiness. Currently, two other Australian women are on the path to being canonised; Eileen O’Connor and Mary Glowrey.

Eileen O’Connor [pictured left] was born in Melbourne in 1892 and with her family moved to Sydney at the age of 10. She grew up in Waterloo. Earlier in her life, Eileen had fallen out of her pram and suffered a spinal injury which left her in considerable pain, as she continued to have inflammation around her spinal cord. It was through her disability that she developed a deep empathy for others. Through the influence of Fr Edward McGrath, a Missionary of the Sacred Heart and the then parish priest of Coogee, Eileen started a new religious congregation of women known as Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor.

They are also known as the Brown Nurses. Over the last 100 years, they have had an extraordinary ministry to the poor and marginalised in various parts of Sydney, especially through their street ministry and home visitations. For many years, the Brown Nurses lived just up the hill from the Jesuit parish of St Canice’s in Kings Cross. The motto of the Brown Nurses is “for the poor and the poor only”. Further information about their work can be found here. Following the canonisation of St Mary MacKillop in 2010, Archbishop Fisher (OR1977) appointed Fr Anthony Robbie (OR1985), the postulator of the cause for the canonisation of Eileen O’Connor. In August 2018 the Vatican granted her the title Servant which is the first step towards official sainthood.

Our other saint in waiting is Sr Mary Glowrey. Sr Mary was born in Birregurra, Victoria, in 1887 and after school studied to become a doctor, graduating in 1910. Over the next ten years, she worked as a doctor in Christchurch and Melbourne. During this decade she discerned a call to religious life with the assistance of Father William Lockington SJ, who later became Rector of our College from 1924 until 1931. Sr Mary left Australia in 1920 and joined the Society of Jesus Mary Joseph and spent the next 37 years doing medical mission work in Guntur in India. At this time, members of religious orders were not permitted to work as medical doctors, however, Pope Benedict XV granted Sr Mary a dispensation to do so. In 2013, Sr Mary was declared a Servant of God.

On 2 November we celebrated All Souls Day, also known as the Commemoration of the All the Faithful Departed. On this second day, we pray especially for all those who have died and especially all those who may still be in the need of the assistance of our prayers; those who are yet to fully enjoy and see the vision of Christ. Many of us appreciate from our own life experience that whilst we are predominantly good people, each of us has areas in which we struggle in our relationship with God and/or with each other. For us to be able to live all of eternity in perfect and complete communion with God, we need some kind of purification. In traditional Catholic eschatology, this process of purification has been referred to as purgatory. Over the years there have been several unhelpful, outdated, and yet popular ideas of purgatory, for example, that it is a place that a person goes to for a set period before they are then released into heaven.

In August 1999, in one of his weekly audiences in Rome, Pope Saint John Paul II said that purgatory “does not indicate a place but rather a condition of existence.” He went on to say that we need to be purified to be able to enter into a perfect and complete union with God. If you like, purgatory can be likened to our passage through the fire of Christ’s love, the event of our encounter with Christ in death. Pope Saint John Paul II also stated: “at times, to reach a state of perfect integrity a person’s intercession or mediation is needed.” This is why we pray for those who have died before us. It is also the reason that, at every Mass that is celebrated, the Christian community gathered prayers for those who have died.

One of the things we as humans can struggle with is our understanding and construct of time. For God there is no such thing as time as we know it; for God, everything is in the now. We believe that our prayers for those who have died are as efficacious for the person as the prayers we offered for them when they were alive. This is because all of the prayers we offer to God on behalf of those who have died come together and have an effect at that most tender moment when each of us will have the joy of experiencing, seeing, and embracing the eternal love of our God. I do not know about you, but I am conscious that there are and will continue to be areas of my own life that will need purification so that I can stand before God at peace and in a state of perfect integrity.

I take much comfort in the knowledge that after I die, my Jesuit brothers, my family members, and others, will continue to pray for me so that I can be helped to be able to fully and freely respond to God’s loving invitation of eternal life and indeed enjoy the light of God’s presence.

In the coming days, let’s pray for our Class of 2021, as well as our students in other years undertaking an HSC subject, as they make their final preparations for the exams which begin next Tuesday.

Wishing you and your families every blessing.

Fr Tom Renshaw