Our first daughter, Janea, was seriously ill when she was born. She subsequently died of her illness only four days later. During that time my wife, Norma, and I made many trips to the NICU. We held Janea, spoke to her and kept vigil with her as much as we were able. On the fourth day Janea’s blood pressure began to drop and so Norma and I were ushered to a back room of the NICU. It is here that parents can be with their children in their final moments, away from the noise and busy-ness of the NICU. In this room we experienced our own eucharistic adoration when we held Janea, our Blessed Sacrament. We held her tenderly, kissed her and told her countless times how much we loved her. We adored Janea, and when she breathed her last, we knew her entry into heaven was nurtured as lovingly as earthly possible. We left the hospital the next day empty, yet filled with a sense of peace, knowing that Janea was in infinitely gentler hands than ours.
Two years later, when my mother was near death, my dad arranged for family and friends to keep a vigil with Mom in her hospital room. I sat alone with her in the early hours of the morning she died. As Mom lay in the tabernacle of her bed, I gazed at her in the tomb-like silence of her room. Shortly before sunrise, I prayed over her and, despite the sadness of the experience, adored the miracle of new life about to take place in front of my eyes as she breathed her last. When my dad and sister arrived shortly after, we sat in silence with our mother, a Blessed Sacrament. We allowed the stillness to penetrate our hearts in order to help us adjust to a new reality without Mom.
We left the room a few hours later and resolved to live the ensuing days and years with a strength that would embody her real presence in deeper love for one another in the way Mom strove to live. We “genuflect” to one another, not literally, but in gentle actions, gentle words, and love. This is the challenge we need to accept with everyone we meet in our lives, because everyone is a Blessed Sacrament and all people deserve our genuflections of kind words, accepting actions and gentle thoughts, even though it’s not always easy to do. In a very real sense, this is eucharistic adoration.
This feast day, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, is the day where we try to further understand the implications behind Jesus’ insistence that, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” What does this really mean?
Jesus issued this radically new way of living at the pinnacle of his popularity. People from all around followed Jesus wherever he went. They trusted him. However, when he declared that, “I am the bread of life,” he was abandoned and eventually crucified. The people of Jesus’ time were not ready for his radical teaching and direct challenges. Considering what continues to take place in our world today, I submit that we still aren’t ready for it.
How can we better understand what it means to adore Christ in eucharistic adoration? Eucharistic adoration in a church or chapel is an important personal act of devotion. Many people find comfort and peace engaging in this kind of prayer. But sitting in silence adoring a consecrated host behind glass is a rather futile exercise unless something inside of you changes and you become intimately concerned and are actually moved to go about and deal with the real flesh, body, blood and bone of Jesus Christ in the community. Eucharistic adoration shouldn’t be restricted to a church or a chapel, because sitting in silence with a loved one in palliative care, gazing at your children as they sleep at night, or any merciful action, is eucharistic adoration. Many people may not even go to church, yet they adore the Blessed Sacrament in how they treat others and speak of others — and this is just as valid.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in them.” The easy part is going to mass and receiving communion, but if you truly believe that what you have consumed is Jesus, then it’s important to go out and live what you have consumed. That means we need to love the community at its worst. It’s about being able to live or work with people who are difficult to be around, those who routinely judge others, those who are quick to condemn, and those whose criticisms flow more easily than compliments. The late Archbishop Dom Helder Camara once said, “Anything you do in church do at least three hours on the street with the ‘other eucharist.’ The ones that talk back, that bleed, that stink, and that need you to do more than pity them or be angry at them.” Eating real flesh and drinking real blood is to be able to deal with this flawed community. It is to be able to say to someone, “I love you despite what you say to me. I forgive you despite what you did to me. I accept you despite our differences.”
Andrew Britz, OSB, in his book Truth to Power, writes, “The Saviour we need to worship in the flesh knows how to touch our prejudices, our temptations, our hurts, angers and despairs, and to empower us to transcend them.” When you can love someone who doesn’t return your love, when you accept the person who betrays you, and when you can forgive the person who abused you, then you adore the Blessed Sacrament and you intimately share in the Body and Blood of Christ, whether you go to church or not.
Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Bishop Mahoney School in Saskatoon. He and his wife Norma have two children.