Listening to homilies isn't everyone's idea of having a good time. One of the benefits of being a preacher, you might think, is getting to inflict your own sermons on others rather than being yourself afflicted. But there are occasions when, hearing a preacher, I am struck by how perfectly the words serve his purpose, and seem to be thoroughly at home. Hearing perfect preaching usually both impresses and depresses me, knowing how I would have struggled in vain to bring my confused thoughts about the Gospel to any sort of clarity.
It's not that good preachers use only perfect words, or set out with perfect ideas. It's not in the tools that we understand the craft, but in the giftedness, or the inspiration, at work in the craftsman. A good preacher or speaker hasn't just arranged his words well, he has felt the stirring of life at the roots of those words, has brought into the open something which has been murmuring in the back of the mind: "Oh that's what I was trying to say all along".
A good musician has a similar power. The difference between someone who can play an instrument and a musician isn't to be found in the level of skill they have acquired. You can teach yourself to play an instrument, and if you practise hard you will in the end probably come to make a fairly recognisable noise. But only the musician can enter into the music. TS Eliot writes of "music heard so deeply that you are the music while the note lasts". A musician already has music inside him; he lives it from within before a note is sounded.
There are those in life who are simply gifted, who can express clearly what the rest of us are trying clumsily and inarticulately to express, and in the realm of grace we call these gifted individuals 'saints'. Saints are those who through God's help, have lived their lives, not simply struggled through them. Saints are those who are so in touch with the heartbeat of God's mercy that they express this mercy clearly and articulately with every moment of their journey through this world. Saints are the musicians of God's love.
Throughout the year the Church celebrates the gift to the Church of particular saints, all those inspired lives from which we draw inspiration, and which are still a source of help and intercession for us. But on this great feast we celebrate the fact that it is possible to articulate the love of God and neighbour in our frail human lives.
In this world silenced by sin, there are lives which clearly and boldly enunciate the power of that love at work, which give hope to those of us who are still struggling to master this new language of Divine Love which God has given the human race.
The Beatitudes announced by Jesus from the mountain-top to his disciples are the score of this new music which must be played. Heard as a list, they could crush and burden us. Who can make themselves pure of heart, or a child of peace? But the Beatitudes are not just a list of commands to batter us from outside. They are words which seek entrance to the doorways of the heart, to reshape us from the depths of our being.
To be holy then is not just to have heard the Beatitudes, or to have struggled with them, but to have become them, to have received the sweet blessings of Christ into our own secret depths. The saints are those who internalise this blessing, the beatitude of Christ, so completely that they are no longer master of their actions or their words, but everything they do comes from a secret internal co-operation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the real musician of human possibilities.
If I were to begin this sermon again (which there is not time to do) I would begin from a different place altogether. This is probably how it should be. There are no perfect statements of love to be found written in the words of men.
But the words of God, written deep into human hearts, are words that abide, words that reflect the only true Word, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is through the Spirit the only true source of the inspiration of holiness, the one who sets us free from our tongue-tied fumblings to make our lives, with those of all the saints, a song of love.