Recently I was appointed chaplain at St Francis of Assisi Centre, Rosanna, Victoria. On my arrival, I was much impressed with the spacious grounds, but particularly with the Centre's charming chapel.
The Centre, formerly a thriving convent of the Sisters of Mercy, is now a magnificent haven for aged people under the auspices of St Francis of Assisi whose life-size bronze statue adorns the surrounding well-kept gardens.
With its Florentine-style architecture, the chapel is most edifying and conducive to prayer; in fact it is very popular for the celebration of marriages and baptisms, and now also for prayer groups seeking a dignified location that accommodates the Blessed Sacrament.
A few days ago, a friend of mine from interstate on his way to Sydney paid me a call. After taking him through the beautiful gardens, I showed him the Centre's chapel.
Afterwards he told me that he did something he had not done for a long time - to genuflect and spent a few minutes in adoration. At the time, as he stood up, he whispered to me: "Dear Father, indeed this is a real Catholic church befitting the Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle; it is a holy place - you just feel it straight away."
This particular friend of mine was the father of a baby whom I had baptised a few years earlier in a so- called modern church. That building looked more like an ordinary hall for social functions, with its strange- looking light fittings and comfortable seats but without the usual Catholic symbols that are so conducive to prayer and reverence.
In fact it took me a while to spot the tabernacle, which happened to be hidden in an inconspicuous corner of this parish church. In the meantime, the parents of the baby and the invited guests engaged themselves in casual and audible conversation which I had to halt in a nice way.
I am aware that today the construction of any church of the artistic and architectural calibre of the Assisi Centre's chapel would entail enormous expenditure. But I am convinced that even an inexpensive ordinary hall for worship, in the Catholic context, should convey a dignified aura of sacredness and peaceful recollection through identifiable Catholic symbols that point out prominently the Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle.
The contrast between the idle conversation and irreverent behaviour of the father of the baby to be baptised in his church hall and his instinctive adoring of the Blessed Sacrament before the tabernacle at the Assisi Centre's chapel underlines the paramount relevancy of a Catholic ethos in a place of worship. For this can enhance and support the faith of a searching soul disposed to pray before the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle.
On one hand, the polarisation of attitudes of the parent, unaware of the Real Presence in his own church, possibly typifies the prevalent erosion of respect towards Our Lord among us, and the trivialisation of the sacred in general. On the other, his genuflecting in humble adoration before the tabernacle at the Assisi Centre shows clearly the spiritual impact towards instinctive devotion that an inspiring church interior, with a visible tabernacle, can have on the average Catholic.
The celebration of Holy Mass and the reservation of the Eucharist in the tabernacle have always been, through the centuries up to the present, the focal point of a Catholic life nurtured by the Body and Blood of Christ.
Canon Law reminds us (938 ¤2): "The tabernacle in which the blessed Eucharist is reserved should be sited in a distinguished place in the church or oratory, a place which is conspicuous, suitably adorned and conducive to prayer."
As the saying goes: "By lowering standards nobody gains." While it is encouraging to witness many serene and contented Catholics who remain staunch in faith and sound in morality, it is a shame that with the current family breakdown and desertion from church practices, particularly amongst the younger generation, we continue to remain insensitive and indifferent to the spiritual decay.
More than ever, the supreme God of mercy and His Son Jesus Christ need to be at the centre of Catholic life.
Renewal of faith
If more Catholic families were to wake up to themselves and seriously renew their faith in Christ and His Real Presence in the tabernacle, by God's help, they would experience the rewarding gift of inner peace, domestic harmony and lasting joy that only Our Lord Jesus can give.
Spiritual strength and a sound morality to resist the inroads of a destructive pagan world come from a prayerful life and adoration of Christ present in the tabernacle. In the past, and throughout the world, it was Catholic families who set an example in this regard.
During the 1999 National Conference of American Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, when discussion of the status of the document The Environment and Art in Catholic Worship took place, Cardinal James Hickey had this to say: "I would like to second the position of those who favour the centrality of the tabernacle in the sanctuary. It makes it possible for us to reinforce our belief in the Holy Eucharist and the Real Presence of Christ by the way in which the Blessed Sacrament is greeted as the people come in, make a genuflection, as they keep a prayerful silence before the Mass begins".