Putting Christ first

In the year 1567, St Teresa of Avila went on the road to found her second convent of refromed Discalced Carmelites in the town of Medina del Campo, in Castille, Spain, a town famous for its trading fairs. She had sent someone ahead of her to find a suitable, basic property. Arriving at midnight they found just how basic it was: the place was in a ruinous state, there were no tiles on the roof, no plaster on the rough, tumbledown walls and it was full of dirt.

Having swept the floor and suspended some hangings on the walls, her first priority was to have Mass celebrated, and reserve the Blessed Sacrament. Then all would be well. However, given the precarious state of the property she was concerned that the Blessed Sacrament might be desecrated by sacrilegious Lutherans among the foreign traders in the town. She placed a watch before the sacrament but did not trust the men to keep awake, so she remained in silent prayer behind a closed door, beholding the blessed sacrament through chinks in the door, the sacrament lit by moonlight coming through the open roof. For Teresa, Jesus had to be reserved at the heart of the new foundation. She was overjoyed that there was now another house in which Jesus resided.

Here in All Saints' Church, Jesus resides in the tabernacle on the high altar, with the candle burning 24-7. That is the beating heart of this church. We are blessed by his presence, and we should honour his presence by bending the knee or bowing whenever we pass before or through the sanctuary.

One thing above all that unites catholic christians, is our belief that the Eucharist is more than just an act of remembrance, but the means by which Jesus makes himself present. Is it not typical of our Lord that he chooses this humblest of means to be with us, a small piece of flat bread? None of the great works of Christian art, not the Last Judgement of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel nor the statue of Christ the Redeemer towering over Rio de Janeiro can surpass the awesome nature  of Christ present in the consecrated host.

Sir John Betjeman summed up the wonder he felt before the blessed sacrament in writing of his childhood church of St Saviour’s Aberdeen Park in London,

Wonder beyond Time's wonders, that bread so white and small 
Veiled in golden curtains, too mighty for men to see, 
Is the Power that sends the shadows up this polychrome wall, 
Is God who created the present, the chain-smoking millions and me; 
Beyond the throb of the engines is the throbbing heart of all — 
Christ, at this Highbury altar, I offer myself to Thee.

Teresa of Avila knew that having Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was essential for her convent to flourish. It is the same for any Christian. If we have Christ at the centre of our lives, feeding, sustain and guiding us, then everything else will flow from him. I knew when I arrived here that we had to establish a regular pattern of daily prayer and worship from which everything else follows on, and that remains the foundation of the life of this church, with the Mass celebrated here almost daily. Regular attendance at Sunday Mass, putting Christ first for an hour a week is essential to the healthy spiritual life of the Christian, to keep our lives in a healthy equilibrium.  

When we meet here on Wednesday evenings we sit in silence for half an hour before the Blessed Sacrament. We call this ‘adoration’. We adore Jesus, we love him and we bask in the radiance of his love like sunflowers turned towards the sun. We do well to be reminded of his love, how much he adores us, and to show him that the feeling is mutual.

When St John Vianney, the nineteenth century French priest first came to the little village of Ars, he noticed a workman who never passed the church without going in. In the morning on his way to work, and in the evening on his way home, he left his spade and pick-axe in the porch, and he spent a long time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The priest asked him once what he said to Our Lord during those long visits. “Eh, Monsieur le Curé? I say nothing to Him, I look at Him and He looks at me!” How beautiful, said the priest, how beautiful.

St John Vianney also said that when we carry Jesus Christ in procession, as we will do at the end of this Mass, “He is like a good king in the midst of His subjects, or a good father surrounded by his children, or a good shepherd who visits  his flock. Let us go with Him with a lively faith, a firm hope and an atoning love.”