Recently I spent a few days away from my diocese, but sadly every Catholic church I tried to call in on was locked shut. One I tried to go into to say a prayer even had a poster on its door proclaiming “From Maintenance to Mission”.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many Catholic churches up and down the country are now kept locked all day outside Mass times. Meanwhile, others, notably Anglican churches, many of which are in isolated or rural locations, are open to visitors and those who wish to come in to pray.
This seems to be tantamount to hypocrisy in the light of our current calls as Catholics to mission and evangelisation. How can the Catholic community say it is on mission when its key centres, its main buildings, its churches, are often firmly under lock and key?
In our Diocese of Portsmouth, I have been asking people to make sure that churches are kept open, at least for part of the day. Admittedly, my request has had a mixed response. Yet I ask again: if in our churches Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, why do clergy and others wish to lock Jesus away from his flock?
When I was a child, my father used to take my brothers and me out for a ride in the car after he finished work and before we sat down to supper. We would often call into our parish church on the way home to say a prayer. Thank God, our church was always open. In this way, Dad taught me a habit that would later be a great help as a teenager: to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, especially when in need or in sadness or when something big was happening.
It was there in the semi-darkness, with the red sanctuary lamp flickering in the distance, that I had my first religious experiences. These led me to deeper friendship with the Lord in prayer and one day to the call to the priesthood.
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