“When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.” – Saint Teresa of Calcutta
I first met Jesus on a bookmark, in the “Footprints” poem. Perhaps you are familiar with it – you know, the one in which a man dreams that he is walking on the beach with Our Lord, and then scenes from his life flash before his eyes. The man mistakenly believes that Jesus abandoned him during the most difficult times of his life, as there is only one set of footprints visible in the sand during those moments. But the Lord reassures the man that He was there all along… carrying him.
I can still remember thinking, after reading and re-reading what was a profound idea to me at the time, “That sounds nice. Wouldn’t it be nice if there really was an ever-present, ever-loving Savior? Wouldn’t it be nice if I could feel that presence comforting me during my own struggles?”
So, from that moment, I have found myself on a journey toward Our Lord, longing for that personal connection with Jesus. While I have been a Catholic for almost 25 years, my bond with Our Lord has always been, until recently, an intellectual one. For when the seeds of grace and faith were planted within me, they settled in my brain, not my heart. Our sacramental connection has been one of reverence, humility, and steadfast belief, yet it has been a “knowing” rather than a “feeling.”
Therefore, it is no surprise that when I read conversion stories, especially those centered around the Eucharist, I feel a renewed desire to experience Christ’s love in a similar, deeper way – an “I want what they have” sort of sentiment.
And it is with great trepidation that I also admit… until last month I had never been to Eucharistic Adoration. (Try confessing that out loud as an employee of a Catholic apostolate – gulp!) My excuses were varied, but typical: mostly fear of doing it wrong, coupled with the struggle to find one quiet hour without a toddler hanging from my arms. However, when the subject of Adoration recently resurfaced in this month’s conversion story, I felt called to go. Don’t get me wrong, I was still deathly afraid of being judged by cradle Catholics. I am married to one, after all. So, I am quite familiar with being gently told (gently most of the time, anyway), “That is not quite right.”
In particular, I have often felt that some devotions, especially Adoration, are like an exclusive Catholic club to which I do not belong, each with its own secret signs, rules, and “handshakes.” I felt if I went to Adoration I would immediately be “outed.” I also understood the importance of honoring the traditions and authority of the Church, especially with regard to this devotion. There are reasons for such Church protocols, the most important being, of course, that Jesus Himself is on that altar. Needless to say, I didn’t want to get it wrong.
The day arrived, and I nervously drove to church. As I got closer and closer to Our Lord, I found myself asking: “What will I do?” and “What will I say?” and “Do I really want to do this?” And then my deepest, darkest fear was exposed, the one I really shuddered to confront: If I didn’t have a grace-filled experience, if I didn’t feel anything, what would that say about my faith? Would that mean I really didn’t believe?
I tearfully sat in the car for a few moments, yet I plucked up my courage and resolved that this was my moment to spend time alone with Jesus, one on one, protocols or no protocols, intimidated or not. I got to the door, and… it wasn’t the Lord greeting me, but rather a sign. It said, “Adoration Cancelled.” WHAT??!! Seriously? It took me 25 years to get here, and Jesus stood me up! Of course, I re- alized immediately that that was the most ludicrous thought ever.
I returned to my car, and I found myself crying, again. I was so terribly disappointed. I actually felt like I was missing out on something. I felt that longing again, so much so that I was ready to drive however far I had to in order to find a church with perpetual adoration. And then, I heard my own thoughts, and I started to laugh. I laughed at the sign; I laughed at myself, and I laughed at the Holy Spirit, who I am convinced planned this so that I would realize how much I really wanted to go, how much it really did mean to me – and to Jesus. God can be oh-so-wonderfully clever and oh-so-wonderfully funny and sweet, all at the same time.
I returned, two weeks later, and had my one-on-one encounter with Christ. It got off to a bumpy, not-so-charitable start. My husband, I assume in a show of support, decided he wanted to accompany me and bring our kids. Unfortunately, I found myself perturbed, even a little indignant and possessive. It was my turn to tell him, ever so gently, that this was my day/time to be alone with Jesus, not his. Deep down I knew that I needed to share Jesus, but I also knew that there was no way I could open my heart to Him with my family there as a distraction.
After arriving, I double genuflected and proceeded to a pew. I knelt for a while, cried for a while, then sat, then knelt again. It was, at times, difficult to ignore the trivial, worldly thoughts trickling into my brain. I did peek at the other adorers around me and noticed that they were all spending time with Christ in their own ways. I had contemplated reading a devotional while there, but I wanted this meeting to be more personal. So, I poured out all my anxieties and troubles, my lamentations sprinkled with a bit of thanksgiving and actual adoration. I think I felt overwhelmed, unworthy and content all at the same time. In my favorite church, surrounded by strong witnesses to the Faith, including my favorite nun, I never once felt judged; rather, I was comforted by their presence.
I suppose that was one of the many graces of that evening – not one time did my previous fears enter into my consciousness. Other fears did emerge that were gnawing at my heart, but none of those related to “doing it wrong.” In fact, there was no shortage of words on my end. My mind and heart tumbled through so many disjointed thoughts – from praying for departed souls, to the Last Supper, to the first disciples, to my journey of faith, to my own trials, to my future.
So great was the flood of thoughts and emotions, that at one point, I felt Him saying, “Be still, and know I am God.” Now, I never quote Scripture, and I have always felt like a harried Martha, so those words were particularly meaningful to me. It was as if God was saying, “Are you finished yet? Now, it’s my turn.” So, I tried to be still, in imitation of the literal silence enveloping the church. And I let Jesus in. I understood that I had to listen. It was no longer about me; it was about Him. I soaked in His Presence, along with the quiet. Not only was I face to face with Him, but I was surrounded by the beauty and the history of our Faith, in the lingering incense, the candles, the artwork, and of course, the Real Presence of Love on the altar.
I recalled the vision I had recently had, while reading about the history of Adoration, of Jesus’ actual heart in the monstrance. It was a comforting reminder of not only His Sacred Presence and sacrificial love, but also a reassurance of my own faith. At one point, I felt Him answer another important question I had brought with me that evening. And His answer astounded me, literally stunned me into a calm state of reflection (and intrigue). And it gave me hope: hope for the future and hope that I would always have a place for my woes, my worries, and my weariness. I could lay them all at His feet. He wants us to give Him our own thorns, our own nails, our own crosses, thereby uniting our lives, our very hearts, with His. Only then can we submit our will to His and trust in His love.
I did feel His grace and peace that night. It was so comforting to be with Him that I didn’t want to leave. Outside lay the human world, fraught with responsibilities and difficulties that must be faced. I wasn’t ready to go back there. Like Peter after the Transfiguration, I wanted to linger in His Presence, in His safe, loving arms. I wasn’t ready to go back “down the mountain.” But then I was struck by another verse. Christ’s light and our faith are not meant to be hidden under a bushel basket. We must go “down” and toil on earth. We must go forth and take our faith out into the world, where it might not be easy and where it will be tested. Yet He is there with us.
And that is how I discovered the importance of Adoration, at least for me. As I emerged from the church into the dark night, He was still there. I was more aware of His presence, for having emptied myself at His feet, there was now room for His love and His graces in my heart. I could now focus on what really mattered — Him and our newfound connection. Life suddenly seemed less burdensome, tinged with a sense of peace and hope. He was always there, of course, but this time I felt Him. Our walk together had changed. After almost 40 years of my own wandering, I had finally found His heart, and He had opened mine. “On that day you will know that… you are in Me, and I am in you.” And I don’t need a bookmark anymore to prove it.