So around 21:00 we drove up to our Cathedral in Southwark where the Diocesan Youth Service was pulling an all-nighter. We were pleasantly surprised. There was exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and confessions, a decade of the rosary each hour followed by a catechesis on one of the works of mercy and some hymns a bit pop guitary for our tastes but well sung.
The atmosphere was reverent and there must have been 50 or 60 people, which looked rather sparse in such a big church. Lots of young people from the Youth Service to ensure that things ran smoothly and you couldn't fault the organisation. There were various prayer stations in the chapels and a room for painting icons which our three older children enjoyed once they were adorationed out!
In a country where most children are tucked up in bed at 19:30 it's important to occasionally take them out of their routine and their comfort zone to have a small experience of the radicality of Christ's call. Our youngest, Virginia didn't make it and fell asleep on the way, but the fact that we were going to Church at such a strange time was a lesson in itself. Lucia had a few 'power naps' (as she put it) while the prayer was going on, but we reminded the children who were complaining of being tired of Christ's request to his disciples in the Garden, 'could you not stay awake and keep watch with me for one hour'? (Mt 26:40)
One of the problems of living in a minority Catholic country and one particularly like England is that the churches themselves are always in such an infelicitous geographical position. Pope Francis wanted the 24 hours for the Lord to be more ad extra than ad intra. To call people in rather than simply gather the usual suspects. You can imagine in Rome or other Italian cities where the church sits squarely in the main piazza that the 'passing trade' on a Friday night would be considerable. In England laws were passed to ensure that such a thing was not possible. Churches had to be built away from the main street and this ensures that 'passing trade' is always minimal.
As for the local parishes I wish that priests could see that we want to be challenged. Our children want to do something difficult. It's true that people are busy but we need to be helped to see that there is something more important than our busyness, our comfort, our routine and that is the chance to encounter Christ himself. Praying late at night is a practical struggle with traffic, with tiredness, with our comfort and routine but that is the Christian life... we need to train for a spiritual battle.
There's still time until this evening! Go with your family if you can, the more inconvenient the better!