Who am I Lord, that I should presume to approach You? Behold, the heaven of heavens cannot contain You, and yet You say: "Come, all of you to Me. You have need of Me . . . prepare your heart with all care, and bring into it your Beloved. I am He to Whom you should give yourself entirely, that from now on you may live, not in yourself, but in Me." - Thomas `a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
Within the human heart and soul lies an innate desire for experience of the divine. The Hebrew people have long understood God within relationship and as dwelling among us in covenant. The apostles’ intimate experiences of Jesus’ ministry, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension transformed them forever. Our own individual need for personal encounter with Him is no less real.
I have since childhood been drawn near to Jesus present in the Tabernacle. Especially fond of our beautiful St. Edward's reservation chapel, I linger there gratefully when possible. My pandemic-era visits were too brief and infrequent, and now remain so in light of my daily responsibilities for small and precious grandchildren.
As I neared retirement, I rediscovered more formal Eucharistic Adoration. Invited more than five years ago to a perpetual adoration chapel on Cape Cod, I recalled having felt vaguely unsettled during my rather limited adult experiences of exposition. I was though drawn to accept this invitation, and since then to return there during two long weekends each year in the area.
I began to realize that my prior uneasiness was not because the Eucharist is exposed, but because I am exposed. Centuries ago St. Teresa of Avila wrote of meeting Jesus “face-to-face.” St. John Vianney spoke of a local farmer's daily devotion to adoration, “I look at the good God, and He looks at me.”
How had I not embraced this dynamic? Was I ready? Apparently. He knew.
My home away from home adoration experiences usually begin with Mass in the church, then a short drive up the wooded, landscaped hill to the lovely freestanding stone chapel overlooking the parish property. I settle into a pew near the back, away from the door. This chapel seats twenty-five or thirty, though I have seen only five or six others here at any one time. Typically someone signs in for each hour, but not always.
I am much moved by the adorers who come in ones and twos, many of them remaining only briefly. That they come at all is revealing, and their demeanor as they greet and take leave of their Lord proclaims clearly that this is no ordinary place. More than half are middle-aged and older women, like me. Some are older couples.
Very few are children. These small restless ones are accompanied by parents or grandparents who whisper softly to them, offering brief glances of apology for their "disturbing" the peace. I smile in return, and then close my eyes against tears. In my heart I see twenty five or so years into the past when my own four little girls and I made occasional visits to the Blessed Sacrament together. Did I suppose then that these experiences would be enough for them to recognize and continue to nurture their own visceral need?
Not many teens or young adults come. Perhaps they are unaware of this holy place, or unsure of the One Who seeks their company? Men come and go – more of them than I had expected. Several assume elaborate postures of reverence - kneeling on the stone floor near the small sanctuary, folding themselves low, lying prostrate. A few remain so for a while.
Sometimes I am the only one here, a chance private audience. Once I expressed my love and promise to Him by speaking aloud in this otherwise mute space. I am alone with Jesus at other times, in other places. His sacramental Presence is different in a way I can feel, yet not really comprehend. That Our Lord has gifted us with the Eucharist is singularly and at all times significant, as if He understands our inherent limitations of physicality and our spiritual immaturities. Lest we lose focus, the painted inscription on the wall above the sanctuary reads
This is My Beloved Son.
Jesus is fully present here, as I try to be, and all is well. For two or more hours I disappear into the near silence, watching, listening, reading, writing in my prayer journal. There can be particular moments of grace – a heightened spiritual sense, a greater clarity, a deeper experience of the eternal realities.
And I accept the disparity of love that passes between us, as there is no other way.
When we go before the Blessed Sacrament, let us open our hearts; our good God will open His. We shall go to Him, He will come to us; the one to ask, the other to receive. It will be like a breath from one to the other. - St. John Vianney