When I came into the Catholic Church ten years ago, there were a number of things I was a bit unclear about, including: the Pope, the Council of Trent, when exactly to kneel with everyone else so that I did not stick out like a foolish person with no wit, and — Eucharistic Adoration. Not only did I not know what it was, I could barely say it.
I remember seeing our priest carrying the monstrance (another baffling thing I could barely say – it’s the special vessel used to carry the Blessed Sacrament) down the aisle, with the end of his sleeve wrapped around its handle like a good housewife holding a hot handle with an oven mitt. What’s with the cloth covering and all?
“Holy,” a friend whispered to me in church, “it’s a sign of how holy the monstrance is because it’s carrying the Blessed Sacrament.”
OK, I thought. I knew about the “real presence,” and, unlike many Catholics today, I actually do believe in it, though to say I understand it would be woefully wrong.
Basically, the whole idea of kneeling in front of a monstrance and somehow either adoring the Sacrament or witnessing to its Presence never held much appeal to me. If I am truthful, as a former Protestant this seemed weird to me. It smacked of idolatry and the mysterious otherness of the Church which I still struggled with from time to time, even though it was that very mystery which helped draw me into the Church a decade ago.
For reasons which I do not understand, I’ve been eyeing our parish bulletin and its announcement of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament happening every Friday. I might have asked myself, “Why would I want to do that?” but I have become used to the opaqueness of my inner life and try not to fret too much about it.
So, off I set several weeks ago to participate in Adoration. Was I wearing the right clothes? I worried. Probably skinny jeans and a sweatshirt were not proper; let’s go with church clothes, I decided. I slid into a pew near the front. I looked around. Definitely it was a crowd of mostly older ladies, praying, some telling their Rosaries, and some taking turns to kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I emptied my mind of judgmental words and discomfort at what felt alien and strange to me. I emptied myself, looking up at Jesus hanging on the cross with the monstrance in front.
And something happened. Unlooked for, unbidden. A sense of Presence. Of Mystery. Of almost a slight twitch of electricity in the air. It filled my heart, and the words came inside, “This is not about you, this is about Me.” So much of the time when I worship Jesus (and God and the Holy Spirit), it is about my asking for things from God — to fix my kids, to fix me, to enable me to write brilliantly, and, of course, to help the wounded, the poor and the downtrodden. I saw that this was a time to give back to God, to give thanks, to just sit and be with him.
Knees creaking but heart full, I left after about a half hour, signing out in the book as I left, almost like someone signing out after a hospital visit.
I went again two weeks later and knelt, moving my seat when the poor lady behind me began to sneeze and wheeze. I didn’t want my religious feelings to be compromised by sniffling. And there I knelt, gazing on the golden sunrays around the Host, just being. When I glanced at my watch, I realized a half hour had swept past, without my knowing it or marking it. I’d entered a time with no time, and was shocked to find myself back in a world of hours and minutes once again.
I guess this is one way God gives us gifts, even though we don’t always recognize them. To be without time; to feel the presence of Spirit — two spaces of unlooked-for grace and abundance.
Am I hooked? Yes. I probably won’t be able to go every Friday, but I am going to try and carve out time for the time without time, for the God of Surprises who comes to us in ways we can scarce imagine.
[Published on: April 24, 2012]