Here comes everybody?

Anthony Towey

Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker is a character in Finnegans Wake by James Joyce whose initials ‘HCE’ become a shorthand for a variety of not so flattering descriptors in the novel including ‘Here comes everybody’. Interpreters of Joyce had revelled in the fecundity of his nomenclature and the theological resonance of HCE has not escaped attention. Anthony Burgess once wrote a guide to Joyce’s literature using ‘Here Comes Everybody’ as his sextant and which with artful device concludes with a chapter entitled ‘In the End is the Word’. In more recent times, American theologians such as William C. Graham have popularised a reading of ‘Here Comes Everybody’ as a shorthand (sic) for ‘Catholics’ which in his view lends literary support for more inclusive readings of the ecclesial tradition.

I am reminded of ‘Here Comes Everybody’ because the feast of All Saints – celebrating holiness among the calamity of our community – is at the centre of the season covered by this issue of the Pastoral Review. The great celebration of the Church mundane and celestial may be losing its grip on the public imagination in the face of the relentless promotion of Halloween, but as a festival of the sacred in the secular, the extra-ordinary among the ordinary, it is a jewel of the liturgical calendar which will have extra poignancy for me this year having recently lost a sister, an uncle and a friend.

My eldest sister, as the firstborn of six siblings, exuded a sense of duty sprinkled with Celtic sparkle. At grammar school – prefect; in the parish – she did outdoor collection; at university – chaplaincy stalwart; choosing teaching – she went to Belfast at the height of the Troubles. Marrying in Ireland, she dedicated her prodigious energy to both her family and her parish, generously giving her time to the choir, the parents groups, the credit union, the Brownies, hospitable even to the travellers who came to the door selling pegs. Beautiful in every sense of the word, she sent a video message from her deathbed assuring us of her prayers. Under threat of being haunted by her if he messed up, the priest who conducted the Requiem was brilliant, and the Covid restrictions which meant the majority of mourners were outside served only to emphasise her impact on the community as they lined the route all the way to the graveyard. Saint.

My uncle was different. A bank manager by trade he was possibly the most careful and precise man I ever met. He seemed to measure everything, starting with breakfast, his cereal, his sugar, his milk and (long before it was fashionable) his nutritional supplement. After a precise day which included daily Mass and a daily swim, his nightly routine included prayer, yes, but also a quasi-devotional 15 minutes spent listening to the World Service. I wince now at how we would cake his spotless car with sand and drip melting ice creams all over the back seat. Yet our transgressions went unremarked, and his metronomic kindness guaranteed that well into his nineties, wherever I was in the world, a Christmas card and gift would arrive as a sign of his unstinting affection. Saint.

My friend was a classmate in Rome. He was opera; I was rock. He was gin; I was beer. He was gallery; I was cinema. He was radio; I was TV. He was gourmet; I was guzzle. He wore clericals; I wore anything. You might even say he was Vatican I; I was Vatican II, but indubitably his idea of a good time was wandering round an archive full of letters, parchments and forgotten periodicals, while mine was playing footy. Yet his kindly disposition belied his bravery; his resolve saw him serve the Church faithfully, despite chronic illness and the constant need for medication. He was a priest of great compassion and his courage in the face of death was the stuff of martyrs. Saint.
I make mention of these good people because this issue of the Pastoral Review is about finding ways to be Church in strange and changing times in which a variety of gifts, charisms and characters will be needed and the generosity of saints like these will be decisive. There is no single template for sanctity – thanks be to God – and it takes all sorts to make All Saints in a Church which celebrates a feast of Here Comes Everybody, a day when ‘We shall be finding an embarrassing joy in the commonplace. Seeing the most defiled city as a figure of heaven and assuming, against all the odds, a hardly supportable optimism.’ (Burgess, Here Comes Everybody, p. 291).