I often do not know what to think during Eucharistic Adoration. Sometimes, I’m just too tired and want to fall asleep. Other times, I think too much, preoccupied with the details of the service. What is the priest doing? I hope he doesn’t trip over his vestments when he stands up. Should I be kneeling or sitting? I hope nobody notices how off-key I am when I sing. Oh, shoot, I wasn’t supposed to say that response yet – how embarrassing. Person behind me, please stop shuffling and making all that noise. Wow, look at that incense cloud wafting up to the ceiling. Incense smells so good, but I hope no one here is allergic to it. I wonder if I can translate this Latin text of the Tantum Ergo. Oh no, my stomach is growling so loudly… I hope the music comes on soon. I don’t like this song; I wish they’d stop playing and just let there be silence. Why can’t there be a prettier-looking monstrance? Gosh, that person looks so holy and focused in prayer. I wish I could be, too.
I try to close my eyes to stop taking in so much external stimuli. But then, images from the course of the day or fantasies I conjure up enter in, and my mind wanders even more, dwelling on things that I probably shouldn’t be thinking about. Why can’t I concentrate? I then try to think about theological ideas that I’ve learned, such as Eucharistic Real Presence, the Incarnate Word of God, transubstantiation, and the Trinity in an attempt to help me focus. Okay, so this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died and rose from the dead. He’s the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God who was present before all creation and through whom all creation came into being. He became incarnate in human flesh at a particular moment in history. I’m looking at the Body of Christ, the Eucharist that I receive at Mass, the transubstantiated element of bread, now no longer the substance of bread, even though the accidents are still there, but now the substance of the risen Jesus himself. He is really present…but it looks like bread, and I still don’t really feel anything. Or perhaps I’m touched by the light shining on the monstrance, which makes it seem like Jesus is radiating his light on all of us, but is that just aesthetics? And so my thoughts keep spiraling.
Grace, stop. Don’t think so much. Just pray.
But… I don’t know how. What do I do? How is prayer different from thinking? I stare at the white disc in the monstrance, trying to keep my thoughts at bay, and trying to think of things to say to God, to Jesus, who should be my most intimate friend and with whom I should be able to share the desires of my heart, my sorrows, and my moments of happiness and gratitude. I’m mostly unsuccessful, however, because my thoughts have just turned to the historical and theological exegesis that my theology classes have been doing on the Lord’s Prayer.
I sigh, and I try to think of simpler things. I know that I am waiting for something – an encounter with a Person, whom I know also seeks me, but infinitely more so than I seek Him. My heart, however, seems as if it is unresponsive to the great wonder of the Lord’s real presence before me, and I begin to give up on finding some disposition of prayer before the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is over for the evening. Will I ever be able to be open, still, and humble enough to allow God’s advent into my heart? Finally, a short and simple prayer comes into my mind:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This is the “Jesus Prayer.” The Jesus Prayer is often associated with The Way of the Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality and the hesychast tradition of illumination and transfiguration of the human person in the Taboric light, with a special emphasis on mercy and penance. But of course, you don’t need to know that in order to realize the power of the Jesus Prayer and the mercy of God.
What’s truly important is this: In the resonant silence of adoration, mercy seeps in. In a quiet, humble town in Israel, an infant was born. God makes the first move, but it is often unnoticed. I had never thought of Jesus before as Mercy itself, and I had not begun to recognize God’s subtle but powerful act of mercy in my life until now.
Saint Faustina, a Polish nun, was a person who recognized the importance of this divine mercy and its advent in the human heart. The Divine Mercy Chaplet is a well-known devotional prayer that arises out of her contemplation of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and her encounters with him in visions. The chaplet essentially has three simple prayers:
“Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and the Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”
“For the sake of Your sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.”
Mercy transforms, and we enter into transfiguration. Mercy inspires conversion, and it allows us to enter into an authentic freedom of the heart, freedom to receive and to give to those who are our sisters and brothers in Christ. For St. Faustina, love and mercy unites the Creator with his creation, and this is ultimately expressed in the Incarnation and the Redemption, as she explains through her experience at Eucharistic Adoration one day:
“When I was in Church waiting for confession, I saw the same rays (that is, as those depicted on the revealed image of the Divine Mercy) issuing from the monstrance and they spread throughout the church. This lasted all through the service. After the benediction (the rays came forth) on both sides and returned again to the monstrance. Their appearance was bright and clear as crystal. I asked Jesus that He deign to light the fire of His love in all souls that were cold. Beneath these rays a heart will be warmed even if it were like a block of ice; even if it were as hard as rock, it will crumble into dust.And I understood that the greatest attribute of God is love and mercy. It unites the creature with the Creator. This immense love and abyss of mercy are made known in the Incarnation of the Word and in the Redemption [of humanity], and it is here that I saw this as the greatest of all God’s attributes.”
The Word that He is and the Word that He speaks is mercy. And so, the silence we experience at Eucharistic Adoration is a silence pregnant with meaning. It is the advent of this mercy in the human heart for which we try to prepare; it is this mercy that we come to adore at Christmas. We must cultivate humility to ask for and receive this mercy. We may have nothing to offer, except for swaddling clothes to hold him, but over time, we can let the cradle of our hearts in which we hold him become the monstrance of our hearts.
O, come, let us adore Him. Let us prepare him room and allow Him to enter in and warm us. His is the light that we radiate to the world from our inner monstrance – rays of divine mercy, of redeeming blood and water, that transform our vision and the world. Does your soul feel cold or unfeeling? Has the night of loneliness been too long? Come, be warmed in the rays of Divine Mercy, be enkindled in the fire of His love.