Don Quixote the Lord of La Mancha or All Saints: Whitterings, February 2007

We celebrate the feast days of the Saints every week. On these days we concentrate on their special ministry. On All Saints, one of the seven great Feasts of the Christian year, we look at the Saints as a whole. It is the Church’s memorial day. It is the day that we remember all of those who went before us empowered with the knowledge of God and the love of the Christ and transformed the world, laid down their lives and pointed us towards the kingdom of heaven. Some of these men and women we know and we remember them on their death days, or their birthdays into heaven throughout the year. On those days we remember them individually. On All Saints Day we remember them collectively; known and unknown.

There are three ways that we can believe in God. One is to have a direct transformative revelation of the Godhead. One must be very lucky to have this experience. Most of us must be content with glimmers, the occasional rays of light that break through the clouds. Yet people do; through near death experiences, extremes of pain, extremes of joy, and through deep meditation and prayer. Yet this very personal experience comes only by the grace of God. St Augustine said that grace was like lightening sparking across the horizon and striking as it will with no predictability. Yet those who are struck with this grace are given an unshakable faith which gives them the strength to lead God’s people and to follow the will of God wherever it may lead them.

You can try and force it but it does not work. Or at least not in the long run. When I was a teenager I accompanied a couple of the Franciscans from Edinburgh to the West Coast of Scotland on a preaching tour. We stayed at Auchenellan House in Logilphead. When I was staying there no one had lived there since the late seventies when the old Laird, a chieftain, had died. The house had not been touched. The library was fascinating and was filled with books on religion and books on the supernatural. The laird's niece, who had inherited the house, would not live there because of a wraith that consistently appeared in the upstairs hallway where the old part of the house joined the new. I was fascinated. Also a little scared, I must say. I stayed up every night for three days waiting for it to appear. I was longing to see something that I could not explain. Something that would almost force me to accept the realm of the supernatural. Then if I could do that would it be such a big step to a firmer more rock solid faith in God? Well I all ended up doing was missing a lot of sleep. No apparition. I no longer think that having such an experience has anything to do with the existence of God. But I would still like a sign. A sign that would prove my faith once and for all.

The second way of believing in God is to believe in the faith of the Saints. We look at their lives, we read their works, and we see that their lives, in and of themselves, point at something larger than themselves. Their lives evoke in us a trust that they knew what they we talking about.

The third way is more complicated and has to do with a feeling of emptiness and an indirect suspicion that there must be more to the universe than this small futile existence. The whole of creation and our mind and our heart niggles at us. There just must be more than the meaninglessness of endless rounds of life and death. To put it another way we feel an empty place and instinctively know that something is necessary to fill it.
In the Saints we honor those who strengthen our faith in the second way. We remember and give thanks for all those who laid down their lives and shed their blood for the church of god. In the early years of the church the only Saints were the martyrs, those who shed their blood and lives for Christ. It was only in the second century that other people were given the title of Saint. It is difficult for us to imagine what it must have been like for Christians in the first few hundred years of the Church’s life when she was persecuted by the Roman Empire. It is even difficult to imagine the early missionaries who trekked out into the unknown expecting to be killed for the faith.

I wonder how many of us in this church this morning would have a strong enough faith to go willingly to our death for Christ without wavering. I am pretty sure I would have my doubts. I would like to think that I would do it anyway, but would I? Could I face torture? Having my eyes plucked out, having my skin flayed from my body (I would go on but I have no wish to turn anyone’s stomach)? Yet thousand upon thousands of our forebearers did just this. They died for the faith. They died willingly for the Christ and went to their death with joy so sure were they that they were following the path of righteousness. We remember and honour these giants of men and women. Let us not forget that without them the Church would not be here. Again as St Augustine said, the Church has grown from the ground of faith watered by the blood of the Martyrs. I am reminded of the story of the Armenian Bishop and his Deacons who traveled to a remote Northern parish during the persecution that had not had a mass for years. The local faithful knew that if they attended their lives would be in danger. They came and filled the church. If I recall rightly they were boarded up in the church with their Bishop and burned alive. How many of us would go to church next Sunday if there was even a remote possibility we would be killed for it?

The Gospel of the Sermon on the Mount gives us a glimmer of the vastness of the task we are called to. The Christ ascends a great mountain, and sits down, faces the people and teaches the beatitudes. The very epitome of the religious figure. The beatitudes turn everything on its head. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”. Blessed are they that mourn. For they shall be comforted” He refers to that great mystery of the universe. All things turn and become their opposites. These teachings make a mockery out of our world, our respectability, our comfort. What happens to one who follows this completely different drummer? What happens to one who tries to follow the commandments of Christ? History has certainly given us the answer. So does the Christ. He refers many times to the fact that his followers will be persecuted. He even foretells the death by torture of the eleven. Here he gives encouragement to those who will die for him.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

The words that Cervantes, that great Spanish Contemporary of Shakespeare’s, put into the mouth of that mad old man of la Mancha, Don Quixote paraphrased in the Man of La Mancha give an voice to the cry of the Saint. Here we can hear the greatness of the vision of the Saint and the courage of hearts that are wider than we, in our humility, can ever reasonably hope to have. In these words we give thanks for idealism, strength, greatness, and the unshakeable faith of the Saints in Glory.

“Here me now O thy bleak and unbearable world,
Thou art as baste and debauched as can be,
And a knight with his banners all bravely unfurled
now hurls down his gauntlet towards thee.

I am I Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha,
my destiny calls and I go.
And the wild winds of fortune shall carry me onward
whither so ever they blow onwards to glory I go.
To dream the impossible dream,
to fight the unbeatable foe,
to bear with unbearable sorrow,
to run where the brave dare not go,
to right the unrightable wrong,
to love pure and chaste from afar,
to try when our arms are too weary,
to reach the unreachable star;

This is my quest to follow that star,
no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.
To fight for the right without question or course,
to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.

And I know if I only be true to this glorious quest
that my heart will lie peaceful and calm
when I am laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
that one man scorned and covered with scars
still strolls with his last ounce of courage
to reach the unreachable star.”

The Venerable Edward Simonton OGS
Priest of the oratory of the Good Shepherd