In December of 2010 my wife was leading a bible study on the Theology of the Body at our local Dominican parish, St. Thomas Aquinas. A couple of weeks before Christmas due to her having a cold on the scheduled night for the study, I myself bundled up and trekked out into the snow to lead the study in her place.
Due to the snow, the vigil mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and little bit of scheduling confusion, only one other person showed up. As a result, I and the other gentleman only stuck very loosely to my wife’s discussion points about “Christ as the new Adam” and ended up simply pursuing tangents and enjoying our conversation. Somehow or another, we ended up talking lengthily about our love for and wonderful experiences of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
For those who might not be familiar, Eucharistic Adoration or Benediction is the practice of “adoring” Our Lord in the Eucharist. Our Lord Jesus Christ, present to us as the consecrated bread and wine, is placed on the altar in the church. The faithful come to pray, worship and adore Him in this Blessed Sacrament.
It was moving, to say the least, to find myself on a cold snowy night sitting in the conference room of the parish center, sipping coffee and listening to this gentleman – many years my senior – share his love for the devotion.
It came into the conversation that Eucharistic Adoration could be very inspiring and invigorating to lukewarm believers, as it had often been to both of us. We observed that the faith was, for many of our fellow parishioners, little more than a habit. Many were very involved with the parish, but few seemed to really know Jesus Christ. It was great to see people involved with the liturgies and events – to see new members being received into the Church and receiving the sacraments for the first time. However so many of them seemed to pass quickly through the various programs and initiations only to settle into a comfortable, complacent “Sunday morning at 10:00” Catholicism.
One reason we decided upon for this rut was that many people who became active in the church had not previously come to know Jesus Christ – in fact maybe they never even knew that they could have a personal relationship with their God or that that was the kind of relationship He wanted. These misconceptions are unfortunate ones. The Catholic faith is tasked with making Christ present in the world, making Him present in the sacraments. Yet many people to go through all the programs, prayers, and motions and somehow miss the person of Christ, the most important part of the faith. Even among those Catholics who attend the holy sacrifice of the mass every week, there are still many who would balk or stare at their feet were the doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist explained in their midst.
With all this in mind we conjectured that Eucharistic adoration, if we were able to get people to attend, could be particularly effective in trying to fill in that crucial gap in the faith lives of many Catholics in our community. The devotion is unique and powerful in the simple and frank way in which it faces the participant with the presence of Christ. In addition, the meditative silence that usually accompanies a Holy Hour is uniquely purifying. We agreed that more people ought to be persuaded – nay, dared – to try a Holy Hour.
In fact our conversation confirmed what I have thought for a while: Not just that Adoration is a great devotion (for the obvious reasons) but that it is a particularly great devotion for the souls of modern men and women (for slightly less obvious reasons). It is my opinion that Eucharistic Adoration could be that spark that finally starts thawing a few of our many “frozen chosen”. Let me explain.
Consider the following scriptural image which is quite applicable to our modern day:
 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,
 inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good,
 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
 holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. (2 timothy 3:5)
Now the line I am most interested in is that last one. What does it mean to “[hold] the form of religion but [deny] the power of it”?
There are a variety of causes causing a variety of ills, but that last image is, I believe, most telling. You see, people are comfortable with “morality”. They are comfortable with “church”. They are comfortable with “causes”, and “values”, and “goodness”, and even “God”, to a certain degree. However they are not comfortable with Christ Himself. Many of my fellow parishioners, dear souls that they are, are quite friendly and sociable talking to me about youth groups and turkey dinners and church renovations and Christmas concerts. However, when I try to bring up Jesus Christ, conversion, the Holy Spirit, or experiencing Our Lord in the Eucharist, awkwardness ensues.
Sadness, rather than indignation, is the emotion triggered by such attempted conversations. People need Jesus Christ and deep down they want Jesus Christ. But many people keep the “power” of religion, our Lord Himself, at a distance.
While there are among the many causes of our spiritual estrangement, there are two fears that often cause people to hold tight to their lukewarmness – that keep them from asking the perilous question: “Are you there God?”.
Some people avoid a real pursuit of God because they are afraid that he doesn’t really exist. People like the idea of God and all the other ideas that accompany Him but they are not confident that there is much beyond the idea. To press the idea, to question it, and to suggest that one really can come to know God personally – this brings the blissfully and intentionally ignorant person far too close to the perilous question. While the desire for God is strong, the fear of asking a question which could yield disappointing answers is stronger.
Other people fear to pursue God because, as C.S. Lewis explains, they are afraid they might actually find Him. He says:
An “impersonal God”– well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads — better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap — best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps, approaching an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband — that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God!”) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us? –C. S. Lewis
To face up to the tough questions, to face up to the “power of religion” is to face up to the possibility that Christ really is there pursuing us, desiring us, and calling us out. Along with the pervading propaganda of our culture, we dislike the mere suggestion that we still have room to grow, that we have a destiny, duty, and responsibility.
Because of these two fears, we latch on to morality or ritual or causes or values or lingo or community. We latch onto something that is “safe”, anything that can keep us occupied and make us “look busy” but which will never bring us face to face with the”power of religion” which is Jesus Christ Himself.
Have you ever wondered why people can talk endlessly about morality, values, church, worship, prayer, and even “God”, etc etc etc, but are uncomfortable talking about “Jesus”? The reason for this is that Jesus is where the “rubber meets the road”. He is what makes the transcendent God present in the world. He is the “word”, the “light of the world”. It is easy for most people to talk of religion or “God” but hard for them to talk about Jesus, because He is the point at which those two meet. Without Jesus Christ, man is relatively “safe” from God.
As a result “Jesus” is an uncomfortable name for people to say. That Christ is present is an uncomfortable suggestion. That Christ is present physically as a tiny communion host, sitting on a stone altar in your local church… more uncomfortable still. Uncomfortable, but oh so simple, clear, shocking, and utterly unabashed.
This brings us back to the power of Eucharistic Adoration, specifically for the sick soul of modern man. Like a wound that needs to be cauterized by fire or purified by alcohol, our hearts need to be brought where they are afraid to go. They need to be faced with the real fear and peril of asking ” Are you there God?”. He may not be there, and I may be heartbroken in disappointment. He may indeed be there, and my heart may be rent with love, convicted, burned, and purified more than I am presently comfortable with.
The beauty of Eucharistic Adoration is in the utter simplicity and clarity with which it faces us with the perilous question. There are few other prayers or liturgies that are so simple, so clear, so shockingly frank.
This is an extremely powerful antidote for the confusion and malaise that faces men and women of our time. It is powerful because it is uncomfortable. It forces us out of lukewarmness. It perfectly sets the stage for a modern man or woman to face up to the perilous question. It is a question we will otherwise avoid as long as possible knowing that once it is out there, our lives will not be able to be the same.
There is however a second aspect of Eucharistic Adoration that is of infinite practical import and must not be overlooked: It is silence.
Soren Kierkegaard stated:
“If I were a physician, and if I were allowed to prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one hear it with so much noise? Therefore, create silence.”
We live in a world completely filled with noise, and I am not just talking about physically audible sounds. Consider how loud our world is physically, mentally, and emotionally. When do we ever get a break from all the noise?
Most of us don’t and that is why we have no spiritual silence either.
Usually we think of ourselves as victims of noise but I would suggest that this is simply self-deception become habit. In the book “Finding Sanctuary”, Chistopher Jamison discusses this phenomena. He states:
People speak and act as if being busy is a force beyond their control, as if somewhere back in history a malign spirit of busyness invaded the planet. There was a time, in the good old days, when people had time, and life moved at an easy pace. But modern society changed all that, and now we are stuck with a way of life that is a breathless rush. “People don’t have time like they used to” – and we all nod in agreement.
…if somebody says they are too busy, then either they are too busy or they think they are too busy. Either way, the responsibility lies with them; they choose to lead a busy life, or they choose to think that they do.
You and I are only as busy and our lives only as noisy as we make them or let them become. The reason we so instinctively deceive ourselves on this issue is that noise and busyness are often additional ways we keep from facing God.
Think about it. Why are silences so awkward? Why are we practically terrified of boredom? Why is it so excruciating for us to simply sit still nowadays? The truth is that noise and busyness can become like any other “attachment” which takes the place of or distracts us from God.
In the same ways that we cling to all manner of the “forms of religion” while avoiding real contact with Christ, we fill our lives with noisiness, busyness, and distraction to keep from hearing God’s voice. Nearly all of us, if we had less noisiness in our lives, would begin to notice things we were missing or passively ignoring. We’d notice the people in our life that are hurting or who need us but who we ignore. We’d become aware of little failings that we repeat over and over without improvement or effort. We’d realize our selfishness because we’d be more aware of the needs of others, etc.
There are many little realizations that we would have to face up to if we ever sat still for a moment – this is one of the reasons our modern world is so eager for constant and instant gratification, so insistent on having interminable noise and busyness, and is so absolutely terrified of being “bored”. The noise and busyness protect us from the “still small voice” of the lord, most perilous of all, and this is one of the reasons we hold on to the noise in our lives. Because of this, it is also the silence of Eucharistic adoration that make it such a prime opportunity for men and women to come to know Christ.
My challenge, thus, is this: When you have decided you are ready to know God better, to seek truth and accept no substitutes, and to face not only your fears but also the desire, deep down, to really come to know God…. Eucharistic Adoration is a perfect place to start.
Be open to the desire to know Him. Ask the perilous questions. Give the noise time to die down and the silence time to sink in. Don’t give up, even if the process is agonizing.
He is waiting for you.
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“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)
It is pleasant to spend time with Him, to lie close to His breast like the Beloved Disciple and to feel the infinite love present in His Heart….how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament?
– Pope John Paul II
We too are called to withdraw at certain intervals into deeper silence and aloneness with God….
not with our books, thoughts, and memories but completely stripped of everything,
to dwell lovingly in God’s presence – silent, empty, expectant, and motionless.
– Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
Silence is something more than just a pause; it is that enchanted place where space is cleared and time is stayed and the horizon itself expands. In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think; but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think….In silence, we might better say, we can hear someone else think.
– Pico Iyer