Next weekend we have the duty and privilege to take our turn in the Archdiocese to host the Forty Hours’ adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The Forty Hours devotion goes back to the early 1500’s, and was introduced initially to pray before the Lord for deliverance from calamity (invasion, famine, disease). It also has association with the 40 hours Jesus is said to have spent in the tomb and the 40 days of fasting and temptation he endured at the beginning of his public ministry. In 1592, Pope Clement VIII introduced the practice of moving the Forty Hours from church to church throughout the diocese of Rome as a way of sustaining continuous prayer. The devotion has since spread from there throughout the world.
Next weekend, then, we take our place in this long tradition. It is a call to us as a parish to do our part in praying for our parish, for the whole Archdiocese and for the whole Church. It is our responsibility, and therefore religious duty, as individuals, couples, families and parish to come before the exposed Blessed Sacrament; to bring before the Lord the joys and sorrows, hopes and needs, successes and failures, sins and virtues of ourselves and of others and to beseech Him for his merciful grace and favour.
It is my duty, as your parish priest, gently yet firmly to call you to observe your Catholic duty of prayer and Eucharistic adoration at some point over the three days of exposition we will have next weekend. It is essentially a duty of love of God, neighbour and self. To help you perceive it as such, and to realise its urgency, allow me to raise a few points.
Firstly, the matter of faith in the Real Presence of the Risen Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Let me put it bluntly: do you truly believe that Christ is present in the Holy Eucharist? He himself said, “This is my Body given for you.” In your mind, though, under the influence of our sceptical culture and its demands for scientific proof, have you let the sacrament of the Eucharist become merely a symbol of Christ? No-one adores a symbol, unless he has lost his mind. We adore Christ truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity, in the sacrament of the Altar. This is the Catholic faith. Unless you believe this you are not a Catholic. What we see with our eyes is bread; what we see with the sight of faith is the Risen Christ (“O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee”). Faith in the Eucharist and devotion to it are the measure of the health of any parish community. For without the Eucharist, a parish is not rooted in Christ, the true Vine. We are not alive with his life; we are not one body, one spirit in Him. We are just like any social gathering. And if faith and devotion to the Eucharist signify the health of a parish, so they signify the health of our personal spiritual lives. Of course, it is possible to live spiritually without the Eucharist, but that’s like eating crumbs in your hunger when a feast has been laid out before you.
Secondly, there is the primacy of God in our parish and individual lives. I have emphasised this a great deal since coming among you. God comes first. “I am the Lord your God: you shall have no other gods before me.” “Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me.” This is our only perspective. It is the perspective of reality, beyond the ebb and tide of everything else that makes up our passing lives. Of course, we all have many things to do, many demands on our time and attentions. But do I live my life in crisis management, or like the man at the circus running to and fro to keep the plates spinning? And if all the plates were to fall, or all the crises to cease, what would be left? What, when all is said and done, remains in place? If the answer to that question is anything other than God, then there is nothing left. Of course, we cannot think of God all day, and the Lord would not want us to do so. But unless all our strivings and activities, all our plans and hopes, are rooted in Him, they will only disintegrate when we ourselves return to dust. We need God as our overarching aim, God as our mainstay and God as our foundation! This cannot be done without investing time in God, without the effort and pain of getting to know Him and ourselves in Him, without entrusting Him with our loves and yearnings, without placing our ultimate hope in His tender mercy. Yes, it is hard to make time for Him – but we must make it of we do not want to risk losing the sense of our lives and the peace of our own hearts. Yes, it is a struggle getting to know Him, never mind love Him – but it is the only struggle which is ultimately worth it. Think of the effort you put into other things and people in your life; indeed, think of the amount of time you give to activities of little or no value to your lasting happiness as a person, couple or family. Can’t some of that time be “wasted” on God? Does not next weekend give you a golden opportunity to set aside some (extra) time for Him? Is all of what you have planned, or not planned, so necessary that the Author of your life, the Giver of your time, the Lover of your soul gets no time? Give Him just a little! The rewards will far surpass the effort. Even just knowing that, for once, you have put God first and “inconvenienced” yourself for Him, will give a new freshness to your sense of self, a new injection of vigour to your faith.
Thirdly, there is the question of what you do when you spend time before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Let us admit that, as a Church, we Catholics have lost in great part the art of adoration, probably because we have lost the art of prayer. In turn, that is due to the loss of the sense of God, of sin, of the shortness of life and of our own frailty and mortality. Today, the accepted orthodoxy is that God is dead and that somehow that makes us immortal. I have never understood that! We are all too eager to claim God to be dead, and ourselves to be masters, that is god. We are living out the lying prophecy of Satan to Eve, only we don’t want to be like God: no, we want to be Him, to usurp Him, yes, to kill Him. And so, our own death as a salutary warning as to how we live our life loses its sting. The cry is, “carpe diem”, live for the day. Our whole culture is like a great ocean sweeping us to what is immediate and banal, away from attentiveness to the eternal, the transcendent and the divine. In this context, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is powerfully counter-cultural and powerfully re-humanising, reversing the dehumanising effects of our world. Adoration creates a sudden, emergency, “stop” sign, pulling us to a halt. It proclaims that God is not dead, indeed He is alive, He is the living bread come down from heaven to give divine life to the world. Unlike the busy bustle of the world, adoration does not entail doing anything. It entails being present to the Eternal, it means slowing down and hushing both external activity and the chaotic internal activity of the mind. The Blessed Sacrament is like a great magnet which draws all the bits and pieces of your life together and outwards towards God; in this way He makes you whole again, He heals you. Or, like a great anchor, the Blessed Sacrament carries you down more and more deeply into your inner sanctuary so that what you see on the altar somehow reflects what you see in your deepest heart. And what do you see at the bottom of the well of your heart? The face of Christ! The One in whose image you have been created! Adoration tells you how the Lord works in creation, and thus in you and your marriage or family: in silence, by intensity of presence, by loving attentiveness, by patience, unobtrusively, powerfully drawing you and all you love to Himself, despoiling you gradually of all that is not worthy of Him and not worthy of you, your true you. As you adore Him, His adoration of you takes hold of your soul, as if in a great and strong embrace, to reassure you, to impart the strength of his peace, the power of his grace, the joy of his care, the deep and consoling truth that you are loved eternally by the eternal God. Be prepared to be surprised!
Fourthly, adoration is a powerful antidote to many ills of our contemporary world. By the very act of kneeling, it is an antidote to pride which stupidly demands that everyone “adore me” and rejects my need and duty to adore anything other than myself. It is an antidote to the obsession with being busy and in control, for it invites us to be useless with and for Christ, to dispel our drivenness to prove ourselves, to get attention. It is an antidote to self-obsession, for it draws us out to focus on the Lord and to pray for others. It is an antidote to self-doubt, self-loathing, self-depreciation and inferiority complexes for, although we are in a position of adoring, it is only because the Lord wants to loves us, to rejoice in us, to see and celebrate our beauty in his sight and to exalt us as members of his very own Body. Adoration is also a powerful antidote to loneliness and to that feeling that you can’t talk to anyone about some horrible sin or situation in your life. The Lord is listening. He is exposed to you that you might similarly expose yourself to Him. Talk to Him, confide in Him, pour out your heart, your grief, your pain in His Real Presence. Weep if you are moved to tears. He’d rather have your tears than your pious platitudes and endless rushing around. And what if you fall asleep? Well, He loves you asleep as awake and is surely delighted that you trust Him enough to let go in His presence. Does not a sleeping child somehow evoke greater tenderness in a parent’s heart? To adore Him is to be loved by Him, to find yourself because you find Him. To adore Him is the most wholesome, most human, most useful and most noble thing any man or woman can do. Just ask Mary.
So, come on now. You have the days and times of exposition in your bulletin. You will take it home with you this week! Make an appointment with Him, a commitment to Him, as you would if you were going to the doctor or therapist or priest. And keep it. It’s way more important than any doctor, therapist or priest. Let us use this gift of grace to improve our personal spiritual health and that of our parish because, in adoring and glorifying Our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, we fulfil our highest dignity as human beings and as believers in the true and living God.