Sitting at the back of an empty church on a dark evening, I look up the distance to the tabernacle and think of Judith Hearne (from the novel by Brian Moore). I had intended meditating, taking up the usual posture, when something within suggested that postures are not necessary when one comes to visit Love. So, I took to gazing and thinking.
Judith Hearne was a woman lost in alcoholism and absolutely lonely at 40-something. She had prayed all her life and had gotten a raw deal and she comes in the end to a similar church demanding some answer from Jesus in the tabernacle but He remains silent and her faith is weakening rapidly. The sacristan and later the priest come out into the sanctuary and their attitude in front of the tabernacle suggests to her that they don’t believe either that there’s anyone there. We who are familiar with the sacred can become so casual that we forget the Presence and maybe stop believing in reality, without ever thinking about it.
Now in this church where I sit, the sacristan comes out to prepare the altar for Mass. She waddles around the sanctuary without seeming to have any interest in the tabernacle. Instead she repeatedly peers down towards the shadow in which I am sitting. Does she notice the stranger that I am? It is good to be here.
After a while a young woman comes through the side door, walking briskly across in front of the altar, without so much as a pause or a glance. She has NO idea that He’s there; she takes no notice. “Does it bother you” I ask Him “that people ignore you like this?” But He remains silent. It bothers me!
A young father with his teenage boy and girl arrives. They’re dressed for an occasion and in the absence of wife and mother I take it that she’s dead and that this Mass is being offered for her - in the event it wasn’t for her. I feel a pang of grief and might even cry. There’s an air of grief about him, while they (the children) seem quite happy. He genuflects passing the altar. They do not. “Do you not mind Lord?” I ask again.
Soon they are joined by other families, similarly dressed with the same mixture of knowledge and ignorance of the Presence. They take up two pews between them.
The Mass is rattled through with a frightening speed. It pleases a lot of people. The only part that’s taken slowly is the homily and that is simply a drag! At the consecration at least I want him to please, please slow down and give us a chance to savour. But no!
Faith in the Real Presence of Jesus! Saint Faustina had a vision in prayer of looking at the Blessed Sacrament and seeing the face of Jesus in all its glory and He tells her that He is pleased with those who see Him by faith and not by vision. “Oh, how pleasing to me is their great faith! You see, although there appears to be no trace of life in Me, in reality it is present in its fullness in each and every Host. But for me to be able to act upon a soul, the soul must have faith. Oh, how pleasing to me is living faith!” (Divine Mercy In My Soul: Diary, N.1420).
We tend to think of faith in terms of vision and consolation but the reality is that faith is exercised and lives in desolation. It is a labour a lot of the time, a labour of love.
Faustina had her experiences of desolation. “I feel such desolation in my soul that I do not know how to explain it even to myself. No one understands a heart wounded by love, and when such a heart feels itself abandoned interiorly, no one can comfort it.” (Diary N. 943).
No comfort! At times there is no comfort, a sense that God is standing back in silence, doing nothing. The abandonment of Jesus on the Cross is the abandonment of us all. WHY have you forsaken me? And the Father says absolutely nothing in that moment. Faith is moulded, carved into shape in this desolate and dark abandonment.
“Patience, silence and prayer - these are what give strength to the soul.” We might easily run away from desolation. We DO run away sometimes. And the Hound of Heaven chases us down until we face it. Then faith grows like a seed in the dark soil, like a piece of china that comes shining out of the burning kiln. It is a lovely thing that comes out of the fire and the dark earth.