Welcome + Worship + Witness
nunzio sulprizio

The Rector: A Patient and Humble Witness to Ordinary Holiness

Sunday 31 October 2021
All Saints/All Souls

Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

As most of you know, a few years ago I was the Rector of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic

Soon after I arrived, it became known that I was keen on fishing

And a kind member of the local community said that he would be very pleased to take me on a fishing trip

The first occasion was remarkably successful and we had a good haul of grey mullet

However, on the second we hardly caught anything

It was, obviously, a bit disappointing and, on the way back, I asked my guide why we had caught so few fish?

He replied that “the Saints have taken them”

I was intrigued by this response as I did not have a clue what he was talking about

In my mind’s eye, I envisaged the Saints returning to earth to do some fishing

Perhaps the fishermen disciples – Andrew, Peter, James and John – had returned to earth with their fishing rods and had set off for Port Louis before us?

The thought was delightful and, eventually, I plucked up the courage to ask him what he meant?

He said he was referring to the Saint Helenians – who had come to settle on the Islands

However, despite my lack of understanding, the thought remained with me that somehow Saints were amongst us in our daily lives

And whilst, at first blush, it might seem a little far-fetched, on closer examination that thought is not as remote as it might first seem

After all, a Saint is always someone who has lived and worked amongst us

In our own time, someone like St Theresa of Calcutta or Oscar Romero, former Archbishop of El Salvador

Normally men and women of great prominence in the world

However, it does not have to be a world renowned figure – Saints come in all shapes and sizes

And indeed on All Saints Day we specifically remember Saints – both known and unknown –

An unknown saint is someone who demonstrates “life giving witness” in their lives but which normally goes un-recognised

I was recently reading the list of Saints who had been canonised by Pope Francis

Whilst I was so doing, I came across a saint called Nunzio Sulprizio

I had never heard of him, and I suspect many of you are in the same boat

He was an Italian Roman Catholic from Pescara who worked as an apprentice blacksmith in the early part of the 19th century

He was considered by all those who knew him to be gentle and pious but died of a gangrenous wound to his leg at just nineteen

However, in that short time, he became known for his patient suffering, his concern for the sick and his profound faith

He did, seemingly, very little, but was described as “A patient and humble witness to ordinary holiness”

The thought of heroic, unknown, “saints” crossed my mind again whilst I was recently reading a book called “A Nurses Story”

It is written by an A&E nurse called Louise Curtis and charted her time on the wards during the recent pandemic

The book does not seek to be sensational nor is it written in a melodramatic fashion

It is simple and straightforward and describes what it was like working in A&E during the pandemic

I was first taken by her description of what it was like to wear PPE all the time

She said:

“Even though I felt safer when I had PPE on…it was so uncomfortable. Even having a conversation would lead me getting out of breath, and I like to think I am quite fit. I felt so claustrophobic. Even going to the loo was a nightmare…it became a fifteen minute trip instead of the two minutes it normally took”

And then the gradual realisation that this was not just a virus which affected the elderly

“The dreaded pink hash mark is how we found out that a young patient had died from of COVID-19. The patient was in her twenties…this kind of bad news travelled fast. When a second patient in their thirties died I suddenly knew I wasn’t invincible”

As a result, she described her fear in going back home at night in case she infected her husband

As she said “I feared death, or worse still- giving my husband the virus”

At the end of her book, she said

“I don’t have faith, but some part of me wondered if there was some higher presence guiding me through life. I couldn’t begin to formulate in my mind why things happened as they did but I started to feel like my role in caring for others at their greatest moment of need was a calling and one of my true purposes in life. Had I been put on this earth to be there with people at their lowest ebb and to help them out of one of the worst times in their lives? For me there was no greater privilege”

Being saintly does not have to be in acts of great heroism

It can be the simplest of acts or gestures instead – such as nursing the sick

It is worth reminding ourselves that 850 health care professionals died of Coronavirus in the UK

If this had been a war there would be national memorials – but there is nothing…

However, and greater than any earthly recognition, through their earthly lives, they made God’s presence known to us

And demonstrate, to our generation, that Christ walks amongst us

And we give thanks for their saintly but “ordinary holiness” today

But their deaths, remind us that All Saints Day is also followed immediately by the feast of All Souls

And, in a sense, the two Feast Days complement each other

As the Jesuit priest, Father Andrew Mowat said about All Saints Day

“On this day, think of the departed brothers and sisters of inspirational faith and life giving witness whom we trustfully believe are in heaven among the unknown saints”

So we remember today those “unknown saints”

Those who have lived amongst us

Not least our health workers but also those who worshipped with us at Bolton Priory and who now abide in heaven – possibly among the saints

They may not have taken the fish

But, like the blacksmith from Pescara, they too have shown “patient and humble witness to ordinary holiness”