Part 3 of a 4-Part series on Eucharistic Adoration
When I dragged a friend to Adoration recently, she pumped me with panicky questions while on the way. “Sitting for an hour in silence? But what do you do?”
Her question was not unexpected. We live in a utilitarian society where everything in our lives, and indeed our own self-worth, is terribly bound up in what we do. It’s one of the first things we ask each other as new acquaintances—not “How do you be” but “What do you do?”—which is the question by which we measure another’s value and worth, not just materially but within the scope of humanity. The question reveals the entrenched mindset that permits society to consider the “benefits” of euthanasia, or the in utero genocide perpetrated against babies whose quality of life might be deemed not good enough—not useful enough—to permit their birth.
Sitting before Christ at Adoration is less about doing than about being. “I look at the Master and the Master looks at me,” and nothing much more than that needs to occur at Adoration, because in that silent interlude something supernatural is at work, “doing” more than we can even imagine.
Nevertheless, our need to attach some value to Adoration drove my friend’s question, and I answered it simply. “I pray. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I doze. Sometimes I do nothing at all. It’s all good.”
Adoration seems to me a great privilege coupled with an experience of real humility. I go there in poverty—unworthy of anything, but willing to be open, because I trust that all God wants of us is our willingness. Always I go with the reminder jangling in my brain: Weakness is sown, strength rises up (1 Corinthians 15:42b-43). This is part-and-parcel of St. Paul’s paradox: When I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
I am weak, often at my weakest, when I go to Adoration. But I know that my prayer there—even though I have nothing of myself, am nothing—is made strong, because it is made before the physical Presence of the Christ, and because he sees my willingness.
Often, by the time I have reached the pew for my weekly hour, I am like a desert maniac who has crossed the burning sands and finally found a clear stream at which to collapse and drink, and my first prayers are like groanings without thought as I try to gulp down the light and peace radiating before me. I have no words.
After a time, I am able to collect myself, and then my prayer takes the form of thanksgiving, for I am always grateful to have an hour in his Majesty’s Presence. I ponder all I am grateful for: husband, sons, in-laws, friends, employment, health, the good news my friends have shared, the ability to raise a cup of water to my lips on my own steam. These lead to prayers of praise, because gratitude enables praise, and our praise joins the prayers of the angels. Prayers of praise are a reprieve from earth. They are a simple, direct, heavenward thrust of love.
Then, I begin to intercede for others. Call me presumptuous but in renewed calm I bring the whole world into prayer: the people on my lists; the Holy Father; priests and religious, naming them when I can; firefighters and emergency responders; newsmakers; cities; states; continents. I bring it all forward, feeling ragged and unworthy—like a slave or the lowliest servant—escorting one person after another, one group after another, into the presence of the King, as I have been taught through the example of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity:
Lord, the one you love is sick . . .
Lord, the one you love is weeping . . .
Lord, the ones you love are overworked and fretful . . .
Lord, the one you love is lonely . . .
Lord, the one you love is under siege . . .
Lord, the ones you love are oppressed . . .
Lord, the ones you love are over-burdened . . .
Lord, the ones you love are slaves to hate . . .
Like an emcee, I bring everyone in and then mentally, spiritually recede into the background, imagining my own self nose-to-the-ground, almost prostrate, and daring not to look up, as I pray:
Help them to comprehend the truth and strength and inviolability of your love, the generosity of your mercy; show them the outpouring of your grace; gift them with your healing and let them recognize it and trust that your gifts once bestowed are never rescinded. You, Alpha and Omega, in whom we live and move and have our being, spread forth your peace like sweetest honey to refresh starving hearts and weary spirits. Let your Light touch us, like consoling balm, to soothe and warm our chilled humanity, that we might be opened to your justice and willing to be made whole. But I am no worthy intercessor, only a faulty and broken vessel trusting in your mercy. Consider not what I deserve in your sight, but only the needs of these whom you love, these I bring before you and for whom I, the least, plead. Let my prayer rise before you like incense to carry these forward. Forgive my sins, especially my failures in love, my sins of omission, and cast them behind your back as your prophet Isaiah has promised, and with your grace may I do better. Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, the sinner, in your name I pray . . .
The word epiclesis means “calling down upon.” As a Benedictine Oblate, I know that an oblation is a self-offering, and we all know that intercessions are pleas on behalf of others. Combined with other important essentials—the greatest being silence—these three words form the foundation for my prayers at Eucharistic Adoration.
Prayer is a force, and it is real. It takes a priest to pray the Eucharistic Prayer at holy Mass, but we members of the laity have access to epiclesis, oblation, and intercession: we can implore and call down; we can offer our puny selves as conduits through which unimaginable graces may flow, through no doing of our own; we can intercede through the priesthood acquired at Baptism.