If you’re anything like me, then you need all the help you can get when it comes to prayer. I’m just not always sure what I’m supposed to do in Adoration. Do I sit there and try to look holy? Do I pray for other people the whole time? Do I read the Bible? Or do I just talk to God about what’s on my heart?
There’s lots of super smart documents out there explaining this. However, we also have some really beautiful stories that we pass on to each other about the power of Eucharistic prayer. I encourage you to remember these the next time you go to the chapel.
1. The Origin Story
The people in the Middle Ages experienced more acute anguish than modern day Cubs fans. They had to combat plagues, horrific medical procedures, and lots of nasty heresies. One of the nastiest of the nasty heresies was called Jansenism. Followers of this heresy really stressed that we’re all awful and chock full of Original Sin. They also advocated the idea of predestination and, most importantly for this story, taught that the faithful should rarely receive the Eucharist, on account of us being so terrible and unworthy.
This mentality seeped into all levels of the Church. St. Louis only received the Eucharist six times a year. The Poor Clares actually had to write into their rule that they would receive. The hierarchy fought this (the fourth Lateran Council specifically said the faithful had to receive once a year), but everyone’s mentality had been skewed.
However, the people still loved the Eucharist. They still knew it was the Body and Blood of Christ. The legend has it that because they thought they couldn’t receive, they paid extra close attention when the priest would lift the Host during the Consecration. They would just kneel there and get their weekly glimpse of Christ, drinking Him in as long as He was held up. They even asked their priests to slow down the Consecration so that they could look at Him longer. The priest listened, and held Him up for a full minute. Then a few minutes. Eventually, they started showing Him for prolonged periods of time. We had probably had exposed Adoration before this, but it took on a new life in this time period.
I’m not positive about the historicity of the first part of this story. However, I am confident that there have been people throughout history who couldn’t receive, didn’t have access to Adoration, and had to be content with brief peeks at Christ’s physical body. Sometimes, I like to imagine what they were thinking during the Consecration. And then I thank God for putting me in a time and place with so many Adoration chapels.
So sometimes, it can just be enough to be grateful to have access to Him, and to live in a time when I’m encouraged to receive Him.
2. The Bravest Little Girl
The Chinese government has never been fond of Christians. During the Boxer Rebellion, they sent soldiers to destroy Catholic Churches. A little girl was praying in the back of one of these Churches when the soldiers came. They desecrated the church and arrested the priest. Finally, they broke into the tabernacle and threw the Eucharist all over the floor. There were 32 hosts.
The priest was placed under house arrest in the rectory. That night, he watched as the little girl slipped past the solider outside the rectory and sneaked into the Church. She knelt before one of the hosts on the floor, and made a holy hour. Then she bent down and consumed the Eucharist by licking Him off the floor.
She did this every night for 32 nights. On the 32nd night, after she had consumed the final host, she accidentally made a small noise. It was enough to wake up the rectory guard. The priest watched from his bedroom-cum-prison as the guard martyred the little girl by beating her to death with the butt of his rifle.
We don’t know her name. We don’t know anything about her, other than that we should all pray to be more like her. Her story is so beautiful that it spread from person to person, then town to town, and eventually made its way to a young priest named Fr. Fulton Sheen. He was so inspired by it that he committed himself to making a daily Holy Hour. He later became a bishop and a very popular radio and television preacher (you may have heard). His cause for canonization is currently open, and just had a new miracle approved in March.
However, despite his enormous success, he told an interviewer shortly before his death that this little girl inspired his work more than any Pope or canonized saint. She kindled a Eucharistic love in him that fed his whole ministry. And that’s why he was able to say one of the most beautiful quotes of all time ever:
“The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.”
I love to think about that little girl when I’m in front of the Eucharist. I ask her to help me pay attention, and to love our Eucharistic Lord the way she did. And then sometimes I think about Venerable Fulton Sheen’s quote. Am I here to fall in love, or to look holy? And am I trying to write the story, or am I letting Him tell it to me?
This last one isn’t from the treasury vaults of Catholica. It’s a personal story, but my friends seem to like it, so I thought I’d share.
I went to meet one of my roommates for a coffee date after Mass a few weeks ago. I walked into the cafe completely distracted by a million different VERY IMPORTANT things. I started to greet my roommate, until I saw that she wasn’t alone. One of my students, Julie, was sitting at the table with her.
You have to understand that I work for the Digital Campus. This means that I work with students all over the country via Skype, helping them to set up Bible studies and discipleship at their campuses. I love each of these brave, funny, holy women so much. However, I have only met a few of them in person.
So when I saw Julie, it was like my heart forgot its job and sent a burst of ice water through my veins. There were so many intense emotions crashing through me–joy, gratitude, wonder, confusion–and all I could do was shout her name and run into a hug. Even the people around us were smiling at how happy we were. I was just lost in joy. I couldn’t believe I was in her presence. Her corporeal, unpixilated, real presence.
This was one of those moments that refused to fade into a memory on a normal schedule. It came up especially often during prayer, until I realized God was trying to tell me something with it. Then it finally hit me: I never would have felt that joy in seeing her if I hadn’t first felt the pain of wanting to see her.
The same is so true with the Eucharist. There are times I go to Adoration and get nothing. Sometimes I’m really hurting, and I can’t tell where He is. It feels like He’s silent, and I can go to a dark place where I think He’s ignoring me. But that’s not my Jesus. He’s always there, and I’m starting to understand that He’s speaking to me even in these dark spells. He wants me to understand what my heart already knows: I want Him more than anything. It’s not pious to tell myself to just “offer it up” and move on, or that He’ll eventually show up. I need to admit how homesick I am for Heaven to appreciate the glimpses of it I see here on Earth.
This doesn’t mean we need to wallow–it just means that when we come to Adoration and feel nothing, we can recognize that something is happening.
“Never walk away from the chapel feeling discouraged. If you feel you’ve accomplished nothing, give God that nothing.” –Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
We can thank Him for remaining a mystery, because this means we can never really be bored with Him. Seeing Julie wouldn’t have brought me nearly as much joy if I thought I understood her. Do you remember how happy you were last time you reconnected in prayer? Wasn’t it worth the wait?
I know it’s hard when Adoration feels dry. It feels like you’re doing something wrong when you’re bored in front of Him. But just know that maybe He’s showing you that you still have so much to be captivated by. You just need to be patient and keep showing up. It won’t be long before your knees hit the ground and you’re looking at Him while both crying and smiling again.
But in the meantime, find someone to talk to about this. Go to a priest or a trained spiritual director, and tell them about your struggles. Ask your friends to pray for you, and have them tell you their Eucharist stories. Just try to remember that you don’t have to this alone. You just have to do it.