Vinegar, I thought. Or lemon juice. Either one would remove that smudge.
I was sitting in my parish’s adoration chapel, noticing a few streaks on the glass cabinet in which the monstrance was displayed. I was supposed to be saying the rosary, but somewhere in the midst of a decade my mind had wandered. Instead of contemplating the fourth Joyful Mystery, I was pondering cleaning products.
Sighing, I resumed my rosary, but as I gazed at the Blessed Sacrament, I was once again distracted by the smear. I squinted and realized that it was actually a handprint – the memory of a palm pressed against the glass, longing to touch the Savior.
I glanced down and fingered my rosary beads uneasily. Although our chapel is quite small and intimate, I knew I’d never have the courage to approach the Blessed Sacrament that boldly. I always sat in the back row at a “safe” distance.
Even when receiving Communion, I tended to shy away from the Lord, hiding behind formulaic prayers or the words of a hymn, fearful of his nearness. Could he really love me, having seen my many faults and failures?
Yet this closeness is precisely what the Lord desires in the Holy Eucharist. “Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love,” St. John Paul II wrote in Dominicae Cenae, one of his early papal letters. Like many saints throughout the ages, John Paul II felt an intense “need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament,” from which he drew “strength, consolation, and support” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 25).
While in adoration, St. Catherine Labouré confided fully in the Lord. “I tell him all that passes through my mind; I recount my pains and my joys,” she said. “And then I listen. If you listen to him, he will speak to you also, because with the good God it is necessary to speak and to listen. He will always speak to you if you go to him simply and sincerely.”
Adoration is a natural extension of the Eucharistic celebration. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament flows from the sacrifice of the Mass and serves to deepen our hunger for Communion with Christ and the rest of the Church.”
The Blessed Sacrament satisfies even as it increases that hunger. How often I and my fellow adorers have slipped into the chapel, weakened by the concerns of daily life, aching for refreshment that no earthly food could ever provide. In the stillness, the Savior soothes each heart and dries every tear.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,” he says, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus fulfills his promise, as the little notebook at our chapel entrance attests: “Thank you for healing my mother … Gracias por mi trabajo, Señor … I love you, Lord.”
Contented, we nonetheless long for more of Christ, and so we return, day after day, night after night.
Although we pray in silence, we are mysteriously knitted more closely to each other through our time in adoration. We exchange knowing glances as we meet in the tiny chapel porch or hold the door for one another.
“This adoration of Christ is not a completely solitary experience,” writes Father Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R., co-author of “In the Presence of Our Lord.” “We all kneel together in the presence of Christ.”
Time before the Blessed Sacrament enhances our response to the needs of others. “The icon of … charity and compassion to all, Mother Teresa, built her life around Eucharistic adoration,” Father Groeschel observes. “At least one Holy Hour before the presence of Christ in the Eucharist was a non-negotiable part of her daily schedule.”
In the same way, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and St. Katharine Drexel devoted themselves to Eucharistic adoration while serving as “superb models of social and community responsibility,” notes Father Groeschel.
In fact, St. Katharine Drexel is the patroness of our parish’s adoration chapel, and a small portrait of her hangs in a corner to the right of the monstrance. Under her gentle gaze, people visit at all hours, in all sorts of states – weeping, elated, worried, grateful, frightened, angry, contented, lost.
Some kneel, some stand, some sit, some even prostrate themselves on the floor. Some whisper their prayers, some read the Scriptures, some recite silent rosaries and some simply behold the Sacrament that defies all logic, yet exquisitely suffices.
Only a few dare to reach up and press a hand against that glass cabinet, but all touch – and are touched – by the One who waits there.
Gina Christian is a writer in Philadelphia and a member of St. William Parish.