What if you had given everything you had (including your life) in order that others might live but only a handful of those for whom you died seemed to care? What if you returned ready to comfort, strengthen and sustain them through life’s daily challenges and struggles, but only a small number acknowledged your presence among them and even fewer spent time with you or sought your aid? What if the majority of people totally ignored you and acted as if you were not even there?
If you or I were treated this way, we would cry. Jesus, the King of King and Lords of Lords, is treated that way day after day by many who claim to be Catholic. Yet, so great is His love for us that He chooses to remain locked in the tabernacles of His churches, day after day, waiting for us to acknowledge His presence among us, to visit and speak to Him, and to ask for His help.
He too must have recently cried. I’ll tell you why.
A man entered a Catholic church a few days ago to spend some quiet time in the soothing loving presence of His Lord. He was the only one there. He kneeled and prayerfully pleaded with Him to protect and heal his granddaughter and return peace to her young but troubled heart. The silence, solitude and flickering candles brought peace to his heart as this man gazed upon his imprisoned Lord.
This consoling silence was short-lived, however, as one parent after another arrived to pick up their elementary school age children from religious education class. It was not too long before this quiet and sacred place was filled with the din of loud adult voices discussing the burning issues of parenthood, politics and current economic challenges - no matter that their Lord was just a few feet in front of them; no matter the presence of a man obviously attempting to pray.
This man saw no visible evidence in the actions of these adults that any of them really believed that Jesus Christ was really, truly and substantially present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Sacred Eucharist reserved in the Church’s tabernacle or that any of them even thought this would be an appropriate time for them to silently pray. As their children began to filter into the Church from the parish hall, bedlam followed them and the last vestiges of sacredness vanished, save for the one sole man sitting and silently praying, determined to offer good example. Maybe he should have spoken to these parents and their children. How will they learn if no one teaches or corrects them? No one did.
The conduct this man observed must not occur in the presence of such a loving God. It happened not only this afternoon but happens every Sunday (if not more often) in far too many of our Catholic parishes. These disrespectful behaviors will continue to occur so long as a majority of Catholics no longer believe that Christ is really, truly and substantially present in the Eucharist.
Catholic Churches are intended to be sacred places – different from all other structures in which we spend time – a silent prayerful oasis of quiet, comfort, solace and grace. The stark reality that we have lost that sense and our belief in the Real Presence, is enough to make Our Lord cry.
We must insist on reverent silence in our Churches. Hard to believe but we must re-teach this fundamental truth. Our every action while within our Church buildings must evidence our belief that we are in a sacred place and in the presence of God – otherwise the rest of what we teach or do in Church will be for naught.
It would be so easy to correct this tragic situation if our priests would remind us at Sunday Mass as to the proper way to conduct ourselves while in this sacred place and the reasons for doing so. Their instruction and example can be lovingly reinforced by conspicuously posting a reminder at all entrances that “Silence is the reverent language spoken here”.
So why don’t they? Their continued failure to do so makes this grown man cry.