Encountering Christ: The Blessed Sacrament

A parish near me never locks its doors. It’s close to the Interstate, just off the intersection of 72nd and Grover, where there’s a Burger King that as of recently never closes its drive-thru.

St. Joan of Arc parish never locks its doors because they have “perpetual adoration.” This means that people sign up to take an hour (or more) each week, and someone is always in there in the presence of the Lord. The Lord is present because, after the celebration of the Eucharist, the remaining hosts (from Latin hostia, or “victim,” we use the word to refer to the bread that is consecrated and becomes the Body of Jesus) are placed (“reserved,” properly) in a tabernacle. This is one reason why a church building is so sacred in Catholicism. Neglecting the awesome splendor of the Mass celebrated there, if it were not for the physical presence of Jesus Christ, the building would be no more significant than a parking garage. At St. Joan of Arc, it gets better: the Blessed Sacrament is continually in exposition, meaning that it is reserved in a special container called a monstrance, which is an extravagant, lovely stand with a window through which one can see the Sacrament. For example, see this picture of our noble patron giving a blessing at a Eucharistic exposition.

Anyway, the night before last, I needed supper and I needed Jesus. I went there, where I could find both. On my way home I realized that when I’m in there with Him, I have a clarity of mind I do not normally enjoy. To some extent the cruft falls away.

I’m not writing about that night, though. I’m writing about tonight. Tonight I needed that clarity because my heart was troubled. I have chosen a life that makes this common, but tonight it was worse. It’s hard to focus on Jesus at times like this. So this is what happened.

I arrive at the church at 2:15 and, out of habit, park within a painted stall. I don’t have to. At this hour, people just park on the curb right in front of the door. I go in through the lobby, and remember not to let the doors slam behind me. I open the inner doors to the main part of the church. The Sacrament is on the left side, the monstrance sitting on a large, decorated surface set into the wall. The man who has the 2:00 AM Monday hour is in the front pew, where there’s a light, a bunch of books, and other things provided for the adorers. He has a newspaper of some kind. It could have been a Catholic publication, the Omaha World-Herald, or the National Enquirer; I didn’t see.

When I’m near the front, I can see the divine Host. I genuflect, going to both knees and bowing to the floor. I take a seat below a light a few rows back. To help me collect myself, I’ve brought a couple of commentaries on the Gospel of Luke. After a short prayer, I read a couple of chapters. While I’m doing it, the thought passes in and out of my mind that I’m reading about someone in front of me, present as He was when He walked broke bread on the way to Emmaus.

When it seems right, I put the books away and kneel down again. This is when things happen. I look up, and there He is. One of the greatest and central mysteries of our faith, maybe the one that sounds the craziest, is that that little bread-looking thing is the God who made me. Not eight hours prior at the evening Mass, I had chewed in my mouth the God who made me. This is not an easy thing to believe.

But I do believe it, and there He is. It comes to me that I talk to Him, but I’m not that good at listening. So I take a spiritual deep breath, and I pray: Speak to me, Lord, and help me listen. I wait, and I try to keep my mind clear and open for Him.

Speak to me, Lord, and help me listen. The guy in front turns the page of his newspaper. I keep trying.

Speak to me, Lord, and help me listen. The pulsing hum of the heater, without which the church would be delightfully and totally silent, gets louder and more intrusive.

Speak to me, Lord, and help me listen. Thoughts intrude. On the way here I found that my left headlight is out. I need to remember this stuff to write it on my blog. The very thought that thoughts are intruding, itself intrudes. That’s not fair, I think. The guy coughs.

Speak to me, Lord, and help me listen. I must have repeated this a hundred times. I close my eyes, I open them to try to focus on the Lord by looking at Him, I close them again. Spontaneously, I pray: Have mercy on me, Lord. Instantly I can feel His presence, and I know that was the right thing to ask Him. I know all that’s between us is what I’ve put there.

I take it up again. Speak, Lord, and help me listen. I’m not asking any questions. I’m not asking any favors. I’m not yelling at you or reasoning with you or thinking of how I’d do your job differently. All I want to hear is what you want me to hear. Again and again, I make my little prayer. Finally I decide that either I’ve already heard what He wants me to, or that He’ll speak it later. And in that moment, just as my mind is about to move on, I can hear Him:

I love you.

My eyes wander up to the large crucifix above the altar. Yes. He loves me. At once I comprehend what I need in my life right now, and I make it my prayer: Jesus, help me understand how much you love me. Help me understand your mercy. Help me understand, enter into, the mystery of your cross. I know that with that, I could respond so much better to His love.

My eyes come back to the Lord in the Sacrament. I think back to the day before, on my way home from Confession. I had been thinking about the Nativity of Christ, and I thought to ask my guardian angel if it had been there in Bethlehem. But of course it had, I thought; where else? I don’t know how presence really works for angels, but I’m pretty sure none of them missed that night. Back to the present. I think of my angel again, of being able to see what’s in that monstrance for what it really is. The God who made me. Once, a tiny, fragile, baby-looking thing surrounded by animals and adored by a few random shepherds. Now, a tiny, bread-looking thing, surrounded by art of varying quality and adored by a guy with a newspaper and a guy who tends to show up only when he needs help.

But I know that Jesus wants me to be there, and I know He wants me to speak to Him. And so I begin, telling Him the same things, the deepest longings of my heart. I want to love Him, to be pure and courageous, to be like Him. I want the things between us to be gone, and I want to see things the way they really are. In the church I can see the God who made me right in front of me. When I leave, I lose sight of Him way too much.

I’m really here to pray for a friend, though, and the Lord gets an earful. I know He wants to bring us peace; where is it? He said Himself how much He desired to celebrate “this Passover” – this very supper that He passed on to us, to give us every day, in which I am pleading with Him right now. He said Himself that He greatly desired to eat this Passover with us. When will it happen? He prayed Himself that we would be one. We’ve gone out in tears, carrying seed, when will we return full of joy? Make it happen, Lord!

I start to pray: I know we need a miracle. We need someone who can do anything, and you can – I look up to the crucifix again, and that does it. I take off my glasses, and the tears come as I think, yeah. Someone who can do that to forgive my sins is someone who can do anything. I know He’s done more, and we’ve been waiting and trying and longing for so long – let it happen!

At length I turn my prayers to my His mother and mine, Mary, Queen of Heaven. I think of how, for how hard it is for me when a loved one is suffering, how much harder it is for her to see clearly the extent of the suffering of her children. The tears come again. I pray: your only Son is someone who can do anything. Pray that we may see Him. I can’t see the monstrance anymore; I’m horribly nearsighted. But through the welling tears it flashes into focus for an instant.

I ask for the help of all my brothers and sisters as well, and then I’m done. I pick up my breviary for Night Prayer. It’s Sunday evening, so the psalm is Psalm 91. It’s comforting, but what I find especially striking is the Gospel Canticle, of Simeon:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:

my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:

a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Yeah.

It’s about 3:15. I get up and genuflect just as the next person comes through the doors. He bids me and the other guy good morning. I go out, and I forget not to let the doors slam.

In the car, Mannheim Steamroller plays O Holy Night. I think briefly about what it would be like if God actually granted my prayers. How it would feel… I try not to think of that too much, because it’s a flood of emotions. I would be delirious with joy, as a man dreaming. I don’t feel a whole lot better or more sure of my life’s struggles, but I do feel closer to the Lord. The beauty of enjoying His special presence in the Blessed Sacrament is that when I leave, He comes with me.

Now it’s almost 5:00 AM, and I took the time to write this in the hopes that you might enjoy the same thing.

7 Responses to “Encountering Christ: The Blessed Sacrament”

  1. smk says:

    Very well done, Brad! So often we want to “hear” something, anything from God, and His message is so simple: “I love you.” What need do we have of more?

  2. Owen says:

    Peace to you Brad. I and my family are headed to Confession tomorrow evening. This is a wonderful thought to accompany us there.

  3. Julie says:

    Thank you for posting this…it is so similar to some of my hours with Jesus, the flashes of understanding and knowledge. And the affirmation: “I love you”. Over and over again, then the realization of the TRUTH of that. I often cry during Adoration. And your description has made me cry again.

    I went to Confession tonight, and while waiting, standing in line, I was at “eye level” with the Blessed Sacrament. What that does to prepare one’s heart for the Sacrament! And then when I had finished and returned to kneel…the tears came again, unchecked because when we realize what Jesus has done for us, his mercy, his grace…his very PRESENCE!

    God bless you! Pass the kleenex!

  4. Brad says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I’m glad to share this with you.

  5. KiwiNomad06 says:

    Thanks for sharing this very moving account. I have a friend who attends Adoration often. It is not something I understand much. I appreciate your heartfelt sharing of what it means to you.

  6. Dave Keller says:

    Very nice. I have to say your post was both informative and inspiring. I am in awe of the reverence surrounding this sacrament paid by Catholics. I was watching CNN earlier today about a Vatican-tested miracle in which a legally man recovered his sight by stopping in a Catholic church and praying. So miracles do happen and I think God can be moved to act other than He would have had the prayers not been made (I am wrestling with the philosophical conundrums over this that come up in Ostler’s book.) Keep praying and keep listening and definitely keep writing!

  7. Raleigh says:

    Thank you for this. I have much to learn about faith and God’s love You are an inspiration to me.