The Real Presence and the Present Moment

therese relic

If you have time for one article today, read this instead.

In front of the tabernacle (what a blessing!) today:

I’ve been told time and time again that a way to improve in sanctity hidden in plain sight is to do the small things of life with great love. St Thérèse, whose feast it is today, was the first to communicate this to me as such; I recall reading the first half of Story of a Soul those first few months of becoming Catholic that I spent largely in bookstores. Though I don’t think I understood it at all. “It seems a bit remote. Where’s my broom to quietly sweep the convent with? What’s my convent?” I asked, and not stopping to ponder the obvious answers to my questions, I moved on – though thankfully St Therese didn’t move on from me. Since then, other saints added their little nudges of grace. St Benedict’s Holy Rule did seem to complement St Therese’s Little Way quite well. I had an attraction to both, but in my present circumstances where was my monastery? I read some time last year Father Willie Doyle’s saying, “Do everything for His sweet love alone.” It was posted again on the website dedicated to him, in context:

Don’t dwell on what you have not done, for I think that want of confidence in His willingness to forgive our shortcomings pains Him very much, but rather lift up your heart and think what you are going to do for Him now. You know the secret of making a short life very long in His eyes, and a life of few opportunities crammed full of precious things. Do everything for His sweet love alone.

And of course there is always Our Lady, who says “Ecce, fiat, magnificat.” Perhaps it was the graces of the preparation for consecration (almost there!) but all of these things started to make sense, practically, in my thick skull. It took me long enough – years – to realise at least partially what this little way might entail. If what I want is the perfection of my actions, doing them well will become part of it, but since I am seeking the perfection of love, it is enough, as a beginning, to simply make an act of love and offering before every action. Prayer precedes action and makes it fruitful. There are so many things I do each day: sleeping, waking, getting ready for the day, walking up and down stairs, eating, my daily work, my daily prayer, my conversations, my breaks. They are all there available to be offered. Would it not be helpful for me to offer them all, each discrete action, to keep up a continuous chorus of offerings, small as they might be, in imitation of the angels who live for the continuous praise of God? Those moments are all I have; they are my life, strung together. Why not make them into all love? Wouldn’t that be delightful?

Another term came to my attention, “the sacrament of the present moment”, in a chapter talk on the Rule of St Benedict (I now find that it is the title of a book I have not yet read). The impression I got was that the Will of God is, for us, accessible in our now, in our present. There is no point worrying about the future or dwelling on failures of the past. We are called to love God in our present, whatever that present might be.

Hands full with all these fresh gatherings from the garden of Catholic spirituality, I was in front of the tabernacle. If God’s Will is present in our now, and if the face is an equivalent term for presence, then we can say that in our daily offerings of moments our object of love and the aspect (aha! aspice.) of God which we are closest to is the Face of God, which is in fact the Human Face of Christ. This little way of St Thérèse, which had been making quiet little nudges at me, now seems to be a profound meditation on the Incarnation.

But it goes further (so I gaze at the tabernacle door). The present moment may reveal, in its multifarious ways, the Face of Christ. But isn’t the Eucharist the sacrament of the Face of Christ par excellence – since it is Christ Himself? Don’t we talk about the Blessed Sacrament in terms of the Real Presence? Isn’t there some intrinsic connection, then, between all three: a devotion to loving God in every little act of the present moment, the Holy Face of Christ, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament? Why, of course! The Real Presence in the tabernacle may be confined locally, spatially, to the appearances of bread. (I…hopefully expressed that correctly.) But this sacrament is also, in some mysterious way, present to anyone, anywhere, who desires it and calls upon the Name of Christ, just as within it are present, folding up space and time, all of the mysteries of Christ’s life and Passion. So in the end, the Little Way is Eucharistic. My broom, my convent, my monastery, they are found in my waking, my working, my walking, my thinking; and what ought to be at the centre of this little monastery? Why, the Blessed Sacrament, of course. And in living life according to the Rule of the Host, always under the gaze of the Eucharistic Face of Christ, perhaps I can become, in time, a little Host, a little sacrifice. St Thérèse, pray for us!

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What else is there to do but become a saint?

And how else to become a saint but through the Blessed Sacrament?

Our salvation is our union with Christ in the bosom of the Father. Christ become Sacrament is not the less Christ for His being Sacrament. So our unity with the Blessed Sacrament is, in every way, our salvation.

This Sacrament is the path, the means, the end. Down this path is a most sweet beckoning towards the victimhood of the Host.

Little Nennolina of Rome, Venerable Antonietta Meo, wrote this at six years of age not long before her death:

“Dear Jesus, I want to be always always on Calvary beneath Your cross and also want to be Your lamp that burns day and night before the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.”

She was a lamp indeed – and more than a lamp, for she became a little host, a little sacrament, united with Christ and His victimhood in the bosom of the Father.

Venerable Nennolina, pray for us!

The Lord

I say, “stay with me.” The Lord says, “then stay with Me.”

Ite, missa est. Deo gratias. Linger a little longer as a living tabernacle while the lights are going out and everyone is leaving. This is a gift for you. Look how quickly you enter a desert of silence. Stay silent while Jesus, dissolving within you, brings you into the mysterious communion of the Holy Trinity. Stay here and keep watch.

What about another moment? A few have gone by, now, already a few minutes of moments strung together like rosary beads. Another minute with Jesus. You want to stoke a flame of adoration? Remain longer by the fire. This is what you were born to do: adore. All this sadness for your sins, for others’ sins, for offenses against Jesus – here is where to repair the broken bonds, all of them. The flame will weld you to Jesus. Stay, and console the Lord. Stay, and give thanks. Adore.

Praying well

Fra Angelico, Saint Dominic adoring the Crucifixion. Convento di San Marco, Florence

Before I was Catholic I always wondered how to really pray well. I’d see the spiritual seem to enter into the presence of God and I’d wish I could get that close. I’d close my eyes and raise my hands in a praise song and try to lift my heart up to God. Perhaps I did to an extent. I will mention, also, that I found praying the Scriptures to be the best way back then. It was hard to go wrong with that. It still is! But there was a place deep inside that still thirsted. For me, it was very hard to be still with God. Errant thoughts would come and I thought I’d messed up in some obscure fashion. I had some good models but no saints beyond the first century to follow. Perseverance didn’t come easily when the object of my prayer was not definite.

Then I found Catholicism, and I was returned to sanctifying grace. Initially a highly intellectual journey, my heart gradually found anchors, and one night – all night, really – I found myself in front of the exposed Host in a golden sunburst monstrance, looking at the Sun to Whom my life belonged.

I couldn’t stop looking. “My Lord and my God!” ran through my mind repeatedly. At other points I meditated on all my life until now leading to this moment, or on mysteries of the Rosary. However, what gave me great peace was that I didn’t have to specifically think thoughts so much as fix my eyes on Jesus. I’d found the secret, to me at least, of praying well. I forced my eyes to stay open as the night wore on, because I could not possibly be doing anything better with my life right then than to adore, adore, adore. And thanks be to God, it was far simpler than I had ever feared.

As I continue down the pilgrimage of Catholic life, I’ve come to understand a little bit more about other kinds of prayer. But for me, what I love best is that simple gazing with Christ Himself as the object. And I know that Christ Himself is gazing back.

The Beatific Vision consists of beholding the Face of God unveiled. Adoration is a foretaste. With St. Ambrose, I pray and give thanks:

Face to face,
Thou hast made thyself known to me, O Christ;
I have found thee in thy mysteries.

Night adoration

Here’s a little corner of my room. At night, the construction next door quiets. So does my mind. It’s easy to spend that time before sleep on the introspection and worry that accompany the silence – or on distracting myself from that prospect – but I’d had enough of that. Why not turn my mind outwards towards the King of Love? So I knelt before this little shrine, leaving no light on but the electric candles lighting the Holy Face of Manoppello along with faces from my current roster of heavenly friends and the Pope. And keeping that mysterious gaze from the Holy Face in mind, I transported myself to the chapel where I first encountered Jesus at great length: a humble “chapel of reservation” with glass for walls, a twenty-four hour access code, a back facing the murmuring midnight traffic of a sprawling town, a smattering of chairs, one kneeler, and the only thing that mattered, the One Thing Necessary, Christ hidden in the tabernacle. I prostrated myself before Him as if I were there in person. It was like coming home.

Or, in a sense, it was like getting to work. Leaving myself open for Christ to work in me. Joining Christ as He commenced His great work, the Passion, in the dark garden, and perhaps offering Him some little consolation. Joining others, like Fr. Macrae, when they offer Mass or awaken in the night to flee to Christ’s arms. Working, somehow, for those who left Christ in their despair or who never found Him in the first place, who now lie awake without peace. For these Christ held vigil and died. But for Christ’s mercy I would be there myself, again.

And when my life didn’t turn out how I thought it would, I felt here the impulse to dredge up my list of failures lessen. For in the invisible radiance of His Face I found Him upon Whom my life turns.

The little red light

I enter a church and look for the Lord.  It’s what one does.  In the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, it is easy: He is radiant in His Eucharistic glory, as a large Host, above the high altar, visible from far back outside the open front door.  Not that I recognized him even then when I visited that church before I was Catholic.  I lacked the eyes of faith to see – and I didn’t even know what the Catholics believed about the Eucharist.

Nowadays, I need to know where the Lord is.  Where do I tell my heart to go and silently dwell?  Where do I turn my gaze?  The little red light points Him out.  How privileged it is, to constantly act as a lighthouse for the safe harbour of the Blessed Sacrament!  It invites us to make the act of Eucharistic faith which should itself be constantly burning inside our souls.  It bids us be silent.  It casts light, as it were, on the Eucharistic Face.  Oh Lord, let me be like that red lamp quietly burning in the night before Your tabernacle!  Let me be like You, Whose Heart constantly burns with love for us and bids us adore!