As I rounded a bend in our country road driving home at twilight, I was startled by a small herd of deer leaping across the road from a wooded area. I slammed on my brakes, stopped the car, and watched as one pre-adolescent deer lingered to check me out. I was transfixed with the striking beauty of God’s creature. I was amazed at its HUGE, satellite dish ears—quite out-of-proportion to its small, handsome head! Both of us motionless, we watched each other for a full minute or two.
I thought, Might not God be pleased if we prayed to acquire large spiritual ears for listening to Him rather than overdeveloped mouths by talking too much in His presence?
As a recent convert to the Catholic Church, I felt strange at first when invited to spend time in the Adoration Chapel of our parish. There was nothing comparable to this experience in my previous evangelical world. I wondered what the point was to simply sit there doing apparently nothing.
Our Chapel is a small, secluded room with about twenty padded chairs with kneelers facing an altar on which are lit candles, fresh flowers, and a large gold sunburst vessel called a Monstrance. In its center is one of the transubstantiated host wafers reserved from the Eucharist which is referred to as the Blessed Sacrament. It is therefore no longer merely baked wheat despite its appearance as such, but the actual, living presence of Jesus in solemn exposition for our adoration. Of course the three Persons of the Trinity are present everywhere, and dwell within us, but in a unique way Jesus is present in the consecrated host.
And there is always silence—no hymns are sung, no music in the background, no praying aloud, no conversation among those who come to spend intimate time with Jesus our Lord. I discovered it was really the most fruitful of activities because it was not “doing nothing.” It is a case of less being more. Less talk on our part equals more listening to the heart-whisperings of the Holy Spirit. Worshippers may sit or kneel; some even prostrate themselves before the Lord. They may read the Scriptures or a devotional book or pray in whatever manner they choose, and intercede for others—but silently. They may sit quietly, meditate, or simply enjoy being with the Lord. We are blessed in our Church to have 24/7 adoration. Parishioners make a volunteer commitment to be present at the hour they have chosen day or night.
Journalist Dan Rather was said to have interviewed Mother Teresa to ask about her prayer life: "What do you say to God when you pray," he inquired.
"Nothing," replied Mother Teresa. "I just listen."
"What does God say to you?" he pressed further.
"Nothing," replied Mother Teresa. "He just listens."
Silent listening in God’s presence, acknowledgment of Him with awe and reverence, meditation on His Word, and contemplation are hallmarks of Catholic spirituality. It seems more infused than worked for or attained by human effort or activity. Yet seeking to be in God’s presence, resting in His love, pursuing holiness, and moving toward intimate union with Him are not passive. Both prominent and obscure holy men and women through the ages have developed this piety in varied ways and to different degrees.
Such spirituality is to be found both in cloistered life and in the busy marketplace, among the young and the old, the highly literate and the simple, in past ages and in contemporary life. I admit that the names so well known in the Catholic world were totally unknown to me as an evangelical; this to my great loss. Saint Benedict, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Therese of Lisieux, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux just a sample of the rich list.
To expose myself to the pleasant warmth of the Holy Spirit seems to be what prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is all about. I deliberately rein in my ceaseless hurry and stop talking—even to God. I become silent and listen to Him as He listens to the non-words of my spirit. I develop oversize ears to hear God’s whispering to my heart instead. “He who has ears to ear, let him hear” invited Jesus. I enlarge my heart by slowing down its pace. The more time I spend in silence before the Blessed Sacrament in the Adoration Chapel, or in my private Holy Hour at home, or in the quiet of the Church Sanctuary, the more clearly I train myself to hear God, and the more aware I become of His presence in my life.
I enjoy relaxing in the sunshine. “Basking” is a good word. I know the very real effect it has on me. Physically, I experience a healthy, warm glow that lingers even after I retreat to the shade.. Spiritually, it is the same. I bring the warmth and radiance of His divine love back to my family, to my daily responsibilities, to the needs and suffering of others. It is a Holy Hour of healing both for me and others as I lift them up to the Son. When I abide in the presence of Jesus, when I implore Him to “stay with me,” my heart burns within me as it did in the disciples when Jesus spoke with them on the road to Emmaus. My body, too, feels more rested and restored. Spending time before the Blessed Sacrament brings rest to my soul: Jesus invited, “Come, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
What happens when things of substance such as CDs, chocolate, butter, or crayons are exposed to the sun? The sun softens their rigidity causing them to melt. So too, spending time before the Blessed Sacrament makes me more compliant to the will of God, more easily molded to the purpose God intends for me. The healthy link between vitamin D and sunshine is similar to the connection between the “D” of depression and the lack of sunlight.
Artificial sunlight is readily available in tanning studios for a price. Rubbing on skin tanning lotions produces a counterfeit appearance of having spent time in the sun. Both are potentially harmful to the user. On the other hand, adoration and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament contributes to my spiritual health. It gives me the true glow of joy that Jesus’ disciples must have radiated when people “took notice of them that they had been with Jesus.”