Yesterday at Pusey House, we observed the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude. With it falling on a Sunday this year, some are observing it today the day following.
I have to be honest, I’ve not thought much about this holy day much before. But as the Principal, George Westhaver, pointed out in his sermon, it is the last major saint’s day before and a harbinger of the near Feast of All Saints.
It is hard to ignore the saints in Oxford although one can certainly take them for granted. They are everywhere here, even in Broad Street where the place of the burning of the Oxford Martyrs is marked with a cross in the street. (Yes, there were never canonized, and, yes, they were Cambridge men.) So much here and in England is named after saints. Saints’ days are more remembered here with that of Frideswide being particularly noted in Oxford. Before I first came here some dozen years ago I had never heard of her!
And before I became Anglican I did not pay much attention to saints at all, other than everyday non-canonized saints still alive. Such inattention is hard to pull off in Oxford. And Hebrews chapters 11 and 12 would not have that at all. We should be well aware that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”
When I study in the reading rooms of the Old Bodleian Library, I am reminded of that. I look up at the wall above the book shelves and see portraits of old worthies supervising my reading*. I used to find that amusing. But now they almost speak and ask, “Are you doing your part to pass on the torch of learning? We played our role and now are dead, but our legacy lives on and you are benefiting from it now. What are you doing with that? Are you well playing your role before you, too, must soon leave the stage of earthly life?”
In Oxford, old worthies may supervise even your meals. Those who have visited the Hall of Christ Church know what I mean. They just won’t leave you alone here.
They serve as a reminder that we are obligated to more than ourselves. Of course, our first obligation is to God. But what are we doing with the legacy that old worthies, living and dead, have passed down to us? What are we doing with The Faith the saints have passed down to us? And are we in turn doing right by the young and those to come? Are we passing on the legacy and The Faith well to them? Or are we, out of selfishness and laziness, dropping the ball?
The church through the ages is all connected – or should be connected. If we just do our own thing, if we just become the Church of Me or the Church of What’s Happening Now, the connections become frayed.
Yes, the approach of All Saints Day has me reflecting. This time of year with its colder rapidly shortening days reminding us the time is short to play our role can do that. Oxford can do that.
*P. S. Oliver Cromwell of all people supervised my studies this morning.