Sometimes, God makes His Presence known in obvious, can’t-miss-it ways: a colorful sky, a baby’s giggle, a beautiful song, a spectacular range of snow-capped mountains, an unexpected hug from a friend when we were feeling low, or an inspired insight while reading some Scripture. In such cases, we might spontaneously break into a prayer of gratitude that God grabbed our attention and reminded us He is still around.
Other times, though the resulting prayer of praise might be the same, God asks us to make the first move, to seek an awareness of a different brand of His Presence.
I frequently remind myself to go to such destinations, to truly holy ground. For instance …
Always Present, Always Waiting
The chapel is simple and small. Perhaps only 10 chairs, some with kneelers, are arranged inside, but it’s rarely crowded with bodies. Part of me is amazed at that fact, given the purpose of the chapel, until I realize that I rarely visit, either. In that respect, it’s not unlike countless other Catholic chapels that serve the same purpose.
Jesus is in this place, in the flesh, 24 hours a day. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a beautiful monstrance, elevated several steps higher than those 10 chairs. Jesus waits to be adored.
On the other side of the monstrance is the sanctuary of the church. Probably somewhat average in size and slightly modern in design, this church isn’t all that different from hundreds of other churches. This church can comfortably seat about 500 people attending Sunday Mass, but like that chapel rarely is it crowded with bodies. In fact, of the five Masses held each weekend, only two are at 75 percent capacity. As have many other parishes throughout this heavily Catholic region, this parish will eliminate one weekend Mass later this month.
Jesus is in this place – body and blood, soul and divinity – every Sunday. The Blessed Sacrament is available to be consumed amid beautiful prayers by faithful members of the Catholic Church. Jesus waits to be received.
Enter the front doors of the building of this particular parish into the gathering space, walk straight ahead through another set of doors and you will be inside the actual church. There is an 8:00 a.m. Mass here every weekday, never close to full but with a good number of bodies on hand during the school year. Through those front doors and to the right you will find the “day chapel,” with enough chairs to handle about 50 people. There is a 7:00 a.m. Mass here every weekday, with an average crowd of 25. Well, the parish used to offer a Mass at each of those weekday times: with only one priest now assigned to the parish, they alternate, with one time being for Mass and the other for a communion service.
Jesus is in this place – again, body and blood, soul and divinity – every day. Jesus waits.
The Real Presence of the Son of God is here.
“True Way of All Loves”
“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth.”
(author J.R.R. Tolkien to his son, Michael)
A couple of months ago, I wrote that there is a “threefold Presence of God” in our earthly experience. I detailed one of those three aspects in “Finding God’s Holy Presence … Everywhere,” as I noted that God is physically present in all places and all things at all times. Even though we aren’t always aware of that Presence, we can’t escape it and we deny it only by not recognizing or acknowledging.
The other two aspects are, tragically, much easier to either avoid or deny. Even for those people who concede God exists, they may still consciously avert their eyes from these other two.
Clearly, it doesn’t take much effort – even for people who call themselves Catholic — to repudiate the concept of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It takes virtually no effort at all for a Catholic to avoid the Blessed Sacrament, where the Son of God is available to be consumed and adored.
Thus God made Himself present to His people in a truly distinctive and peculiar way. We can venture into truly holy space, look upon Him and pay Him homage in the flesh. And we can boldly yet humbly accept His invitation and, indeed, heed His command and, in eating and drinking, actually become what we eat and drink.
Perhaps it is too great for our feeble human sensibilities to fully grasp the awesome nature of God’s Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. How else to explain the empty pews at Mass and vacant kneelers in Adoration chapels?
Maybe we simply take it for granted because God’s Presence is so ubiquitous in this fashion, at least in the part of the world I call home at this point in history. I can find a convenient Mass every day. I have Adoration offered at every hour somewhere within driving range of where I work and live.
The secular world has defined “special” and “hallowed” in such a way that the concept of the Blessed Sacrament doesn’t qualify. Something special is defined as “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual,” which the world often considers once-in-a-lifetime or the kind of thing that makes everyone else jealous.
Cherishing Special Places and Moments
During my two decades as a sportswriter with a major metropolitan daily newspaper, I was fortunate to find myself in some special circumstances and places. Some of them might have made me the envy of many sports fans, who readily would have considered me sitting on hallowed ground: sitting in the office of Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig for a one-on-one interview that felt a little like the kind uncle chatting with his nephew; following Mark McGwire around the country (before any of us suspected the steroids) during his record-setting home run binge of 1998 and generally having exclusive access to talking with Big Mac; entering the St. Louis Cardinals’ clubhouse – when it was closed to anyone except players and coaches – after a memorial service following the shocking in-season death of pitcher Darryl Kile in 2002. Other such moments came in places that were hallowed to me because they were more intimate:
- A phone call at my home early one morning from a highly-recruited high school football player. He wanted me to be the first person outside his family to know his college choice.
- The green light from the wife of a curmudgeonly, legendary high school football coach to interview her for a profile on her husband. He rarely talked with reporters, much less approved one to talk with his wife. “Pete said I could talk with you,” she told me, “because he said you’re a good boy and that you’d be fair.”
- An interview with a small-town, extremely successful high school basketball coach who had grown up in abject poverty, an interview he didn’t seem to want to end not because it was me, but because of what I represented in his life. “I can’t believe,” the coach said about 1 in the morning in his basement, “that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is sitting in my house.”
Others were more personally “sacred” and special for me: A midnight phone call from a dear friend who earlier in the evening had given birth to a baby boy with a physical handicap, as she shared her fears and concerns along with hopes; a seat at the table for a Sabbath meal with an orthodox Jewish family and patient, detailed explanations of their faith and rituals; my arm around a treasured friend as I walked with him and his wife into the hospital room to identify the body of their teenaged son, who had died by suicide.
The room in an intensive-care unit where my mom was dying. The altar at my wedding. The hospital rooms where each of my four children was born
In each of those cases, I recognized the impact of the moment in their lives, the trust and emotions that I might rarely find repeated in my life, and I felt grateful for them. Those moments were exceptional and the memories are noteworthy in part because they were unique, filled with emotion, intensely personal.
Recognizing Truly Hallowed Presence
Yet, all things considered, how can they truly compare with experiencing the Divine Presence in the Blessed Sacrament? I mean, we’re talking about the God of the universe, creator of everything, giver of life, Savior of the world, worker of miracles, healer of the blind and the lame. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Sacred ground always is in our midst. I pray for a desire and a hunger that must be satisfied. Having felt that joy often, I only have to recall how that put all other human experiences to shame.
As I knelt recently in my home church, I was silent on the outside while the voices of a couple hundred others rose in unison around me. They sang a tune written by John Mark McMillan and left me awash with joy and awe. From all those voices, though, I could most distinctly hear the sweet sound of a teenage girl who was kneeling behind me:
I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me.
Oh, how He loves us so. Oh, how He loves us. How He loves us so.
Yeah, He loves us. Oh, how He loves us. Oh, how He loves us. Oh, how He loves …
Romance, glory, honor, fidelity, true love – yes, Jesus waits.