There has been in recent times a discernible increase in those drawn to Eucharistic adoration in parishes and communities, and particularly among young people. Adoration stands as an antidote to the noise and busyness of our world.
As we hear from the account of Elijah at Horeb, the Lord was not in the mighty wind, fire or earthquakes but in “the gentle breeze” (1 Kings 19: 9a, 11-16). After encountering that “gentle breeze”, Elijah covered his face with his cloak and stood at the entrance of the cave. “The gentle breeze” might be the Lord calling us from the Blessed Sacrament, and the cloak the call to humble and prostrate ourselves in Adoration.
London seemingly gets busier and more hectic every year, no more so than in the West End. The life of St Patrick’s, Soho, where I am parish priest, has been disrupted for 10 years by the tunnelling and excavation for Crossrail. Indeed, the new station platform of Tottenham Court Road lies directly below the aisle of the church. There will be some significant structural damage to put right.
In December, when Crossrail opens, it is estimated that an extra 80,000 people per day will pour onto the streets around the church. Soon, for the first time in its 230-year history, the church will stand alone next door to a major transport hub. Following the Catholic Relief Act of 1791 and Catholic Emancipation of 1829, Catholic churches built in London and close to the Establishment were advised to be hidden and remain obscure. St Patrick’s will now be visible to all, thanks to Crossrail.
Over the last few years, the fire, wind and earthquakes have besieged us, but somehow the gentle breeze continues to blow. Few who visit London are strangers to Soho, which continues to rattle cages of conventional behaviour. Indeed, one could liken it to a shop window into our contemporary culture. However you represent it, our movers and shakers propose a culture antipathetic to “the gentle breeze”, which is our Christian culture and the call from the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. While so much has seemingly defeated or overwhelmed us, our resources are limited, but our most potent weapon is the Real Presence of Our Lord, celebrated at Holy Mass and prolonged in Eucharistic adoration.
The fall-out from economic advance, poverty and homelessness on the streets, the moral confusion of many and deep spiritual impoverishment continue unabated. The call to celebrate and adore the Lord is for many of us both the sole and perfect antidote to this malaise.
In Easter Week we received the relics of St Mary Magdalene from Vézelay in France in preparation for the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday. St Mary Magdalene and the Octave of Easter enshrine so much of what a parish like Soho can do to proclaim a culture of life and act as a bulwark against the forces of pluralism which want to confine us to the old curiosity shop.
Mary Magdalene is that most beautiful and first witness to the Resurrection who lived the journey of conversion, repentance and healing, realising in the depth of her being what it means to be known and loved by God. Her beauty comes from being restored to her full humanity and being able to refuse the seductions of “wind, fire and earthquake” as did Elijah at Horeb. She knows what it means to evangelise, to go into the streets to invite those who do not know Christ to come and encounter and adore Him.
With a handful of parishioners but in an increasingly busy city centre, how does a church like St Patrick’s engage with our age? The visit of the relics of St Mary Magdalene has served as an invitation to come into that loving and merciful Eucharistic presence.
Perpetual Adoration will start at the time of the opening of Crossrail in December. Street evangelisation, undertaken during our regular Nightfever events, creates beautiful opportunities to say to those we encounter “come and see”.
The shrine of Montmartre, dedicated to Perpetual Adoration, was instituted in Paris in 1873 as reparation for France’s sins against the Sacred Heart. The Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre (Tyburn Nuns) stand at one end of Oxford Street, St Patrick’s at the other, respectively the place where many martyrs were hung, drawn and quartered, and a site through which some were dragged on their way to execution and where they were subsequently buried. Presently there is Perpetual Adoration at the west end. Let us pray that it will be established at the other end as well, thus making Oxford Street truly embraced by the love of the Eucharistic Lord.
Through that act of adoration and prayer, may many come to know and love Christ, and know that the glory of God is man fully alive. Venite adoremus.
Fr Alexander Sherbrooke is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Soho Square. To register on the Adoration rota, email [email protected] The parish hosts a monthly Nightfever event (see facebook.com/NightfeverLondon)