Early this morning, I was able to sit alone for a while at our Altar of Repose, to which the Blessed Sacrament was solemnly taken last evening after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We accompanied Him to that place with candles and incense, and with an air of great reverence, before spending time with Him there for the praying of Night Prayer from the Office.
Afterwards, one of the altar servers asked me if “this was like Jesus being on the Cross”; I replied that this was Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, beginning the agony of His Passion.
We call this place the ‘Altar of Repose’ and in adorning it very carefully, we remind ourselves of the immense gift we have before us in the Blessed Sacrament – something we can, I am sure, become forgetful of at times. And so in preparing this place, adorning it, processing reverently to it and then spending time there in solemn prayer, can be something of a good remedy for this.
Sitting there alone this morning, I was thinking very much of the accounts of the Passion of Christ recorded in the Gospels, and especially those heart-wrenching words addressed to Peter – “Could you not watch with Me one hour?”. Poor Peter. How stung he must have felt on being asked this question – and yet this would be nothing compared to the pain and humiliation he would experience just a few hours later, as dawn was breaking that Good Friday morning. But even this was not sufficient to give Peter the courage to stand at the foot of the Cross on Golgotha, from which he was notably absent; and yet, much later, he would embrace his own personal cross willingly and in great humility.
I suppose it is very easy for us, today, looking back on those moments and assuring ourselves that “I would have done it differently; I would have stayed awake; I would never have denied Him.” But I expect that for many of us, the reality is that we would likely have done much the same as Peter did – fallen asleep, then denied the Man and run away.
For Peter, those days proved to be a pivotal moment, a deeply powerful turning point at which something began – something which would be both strengthened and sanctified a little over fifty days later with the descent of the Holy Spirit.
All the twists and turns in the lives of Peter and the other Apostles gives me confidence in humanity more generally – after all, if the Lord can work with these broken and weak men and produce something so beautiful and effective and incredibly powerful, then all of us have something of the same potential.
The secret which enables this to take place is the same for us as it was for them – to open ourselves to divine mercy and divine grace; in other words, to make a place for the Lord in the poverty of our hearts, knowing that He will supply all we need, and to welcome Him there.
Or to put it another way, that we ourselves, each one of us, becomes His little altar of repose.