164 Hours to Change my Heart
For 15 years at Christ the King church in Queenswood, Pretoria, someone has been on the bench in front of the Blessed Sacrament, every hour, every day.
Someone bringing their own life before the Lord, bringing their own joys and tears before the Mercy Seat of God. Someone ensuring our church, in a Perpetual Adoration parish, is accessible not only to themselves, but to the many others who need a place of quiet refuge, a Holy of Holies in an unholy world.
Iím often staggered at the effect this has. I canít quantify it. Itís not a religious community carrying a burdenóitís just a community response to a need to be open to the Lord. And that makes us all the more religious.
Our open church attracts all sorts. We are visited by over 120 people a day. People who pop in to light a candle, say a prayer, spend the night. We are able to create a space where the seeker can find a pilgrimís house, even if it is just for a moment.
This openness hasnít made us saints. It doesnít fill Godís house with the Odour of Sanctity. In fact, some of our visitors have been prompted to quietly leave a can of deodorant around.
It doesnít make us all charitable and all loving. But it does allow 164 people to take in the role of guardians of a sacred space, almost like the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament. It allows 164 people to take their lot, like the priest Zachariah, in the Sanctuary of the Lord, so that many others can find the space for sanctuary.
I am responsible as guardian of an hour on Monday morningóa horrific time for someone who doesnít function well before coffee oíclockóand then a precious holy hour from midnight to 1am on Wednesday.
Getting to this time is a struggle. Tuesdays are very long days. I canít sleep before the hour and sometimes I also canít sleep after the hour.
Sometimes I just sit here, like a bored security guard. At those times I canít wait for the hour to be done. Sometimes I fall asleep, like Joshua in the Tent of Meeting. Sometimes I afflict my snoring on Our Lord. Sometimes the hour has hardly begun and itís over.
Can I say I prayed well? Most of the time, probably not. I do sometimes just waste time before the Lord. I light a candle for family and friends. Think about the parish; the joys and the hardships. Pray for the many needs written in our prayer whiteboard. Marvel.
I donít think that being an Adoration church makes the parish any easier to manage. In fact, because of the great spiritual good done by an open church and a pilgrim group of guardians, the parish often feels under attack.
Iím not one to see the dark forces arrayed behind every bush, but I do know and acknowledge that the dark and destructive often feel like they are assaulting this place of light, like the siege on a medieval castle keep.
We have the prayer to St Michael here just for that purpose, because I, like many others, have to constantly battle under grace to let my light shine, rather than to be overwhelmed.
People fight. Get angry. Have spiritual crises. Toss their guardianship in a huff. Complain about the person before or after them. Sometimes weíre the least charitable. Sometimes we need to move off for a while.
Itís all part of the duty to serve and serve up an open, safe space.
Perpetual Adoration isnít for every parish, or for every person. It takes an enormous amount of dedicated patience for our incredible coordinator. People get sick, oversleep, forget, go on holiday. But somehow, we make about 160 of our 164 hours.
Sometimes I panic that there are too many gaps, that we might be forced to close down part of this time of grace. Then Iím reminded, by the fell swoop of the Holy Spirit, that this is not my programme, not my problem. Itís Godís. And God takes care of this space.
I am also acutely aware that running an Adoration parish is simpler in an urban or suburban parish, because people need to be nearby.
Then Iím reminded that so many people donít grudge their hour. They come and spend many. Last year, Mrs Chetty died. She regularly would come in and just quietly sit in the chapel right through the night. When she finally went home, Iím sure she was welcomed to an overwhelming familiarity. Sheíd been home so often.
I would love to see this blessing in every parish, but it will never be so. I would love to see an Adoration church like the Stational churches we had for the 2000 Jubilee year ó one in every deanery.
But mostly, I wish I could put into words what a blessing this space is, and how humbled I am to be a guardian of the space with 162 others.
Anyone doing the maths after the last sentence is reminded that we donít have a guardian designated during our Sunday Masses.