If I asked you to make a list of amazing places on earth you might choose to include the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the Sahara Desert. But would you include your local church?
At Mass this weekend we hear about Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush. Moses is told by the voice of God that he is standing on holy ground and that he ought to remove his sandals. Having spent many years tending animals in the wilderness, Moses probably would have been no stranger to remote mountain walks. But this mountainside prompted him to behave differently. The place he was in was not ordinary but was somewhere in which the Creator of the universe was mysteriously present.
Does this sound familiar? Each time we visit a church and the red lamp is burning beside the tabernacle we know that God is truly present inside, in the form of the Eucharist. This makes nearly every Catholic church and chapel into ‘holy ground’.
I’m not suggesting that you should take your shoes off every time you go to Mass, but I do wonder how often we appreciate that we are surrounded by holy places – our (sometimes very plain-looking) Catholic churches are just one example.
In centuries past there were shrines all over England, both large and small, in small villages and in large cities. Today, in our Diocese, we are particularly blessed to have the National Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham. But all over the countryside, and towns, there are old wells, crosses, graves of local saints and other signs of sacred places that have been long forgotten.
In fact, in our part of the world, almost every town, village and hamlet has an old church where Mass was once said and where people have prayed for centuries. These places should remind us that Jesus is truly present in our world. We can metaphorically take off our sandals by using these holy places as a prompt to pray and to remember the way that God has worked among us in England, and even in East Anglia, throughout history and right down to today.
So, next time you pass a church, why not make an effort to say a few silent words to God? Or even go inside if you can. And why not find out if there are any local saints or other holy places and people near you? You may just find that some amazing places are much closer than you think.