THE EUCHARIST is at the heart of our faith. The Second Vatican Council famously declared that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the whole Christian life.” Pope Francis often speaks of our need to be close to the Eucharist. The Pope himself gets up at 4:30 am and spends two hours praying before the tabernacle. Then at 7:00 am he celebrates his daily Mass in the chapel at St. Martha, and in these simple Masses he reaches out to the whole Church with the down to earth wisdom in his daily homilies, which are often talked about throughout the world.
As the Holy Father gets so much of his spiritual strength from his prayer before the Tabernacle, it should be no surprise that he is not slow to recommend it to others. At morning Mass last October he encouraged his listeners to pray more. “One cannot know the Lord,” he said “without being in the habit of adoring, of adoring in silence.” However, he is also sadly aware of our tendency to spiritual sloth, and he continued “I believe, if I am not mistaken, that this prayer of adoration is the least known among us; it is the one we engage in the least.” But nonetheless it is vital, and the Holy Father invites us to take it seriously. “To waste time – if I may say it – before the Lord, before the mystery of Jesus Christ. To adore, there in the silence, in the silence of adoration. He is the Lord, and I adore Him.” Eucharistic Adoration allows us to immerse ourselves in the “sea which is the Person of Christ.”
Pope Francis does not recommend Eucharistic Adoration as something only for special occasions. In his message for the Eucharistic Congress in Genoa, Italy, last July he recommended that all of us “visit – if possible, every day – especially amid life’s difficulties, the Blessed Sacrament of the infinite love of Christ and His mercy, preserved in our churches, and often abandoned, to speak filially with Him, to listen to Him in silence, and to peacefully entrust yourself to Him.” But this is not a one-sided conversation. Its not just us speaking to Jesus, but, as the Pope preached on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 2013, “Jesus speaks in the silence of the mystery of the Eucharist and reminds us each time that following Him means going out of ourselves and making our lives not something we ‘possess,’ but a gift to Him and to others.” The Eucharist draws us out of ourselves “out of our individualism so that together we live our discipleship, our faith in [Christ].” The fruit of our prayer is to help us to live life to the full, following our Lord on his path “of service, sharing and giving; and that little that we have, the little that we are, if shared, becomes a treasure because the power of God, who is love, descends to our poverty and transforms it.”
St. Benedict of Nursia prescribed a balanced life of work and prayer for his monks. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis applies the same advice to every member of the Church, saying that “spirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work.” While there is a danger of some people using prayer as an excuse not to work on behalf of their brothers and sisters, it is also a very serious problem if we get lost in activism without having recourse to prayer. As an answer to this Pope Francis recommends that we “cultivate an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity.” This is vital in the Church because “without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the Word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out. The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s Word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist, are growing at every level of ecclesial life.”
When we pray before the Blessed Sacrament we remember Christ, and this is a dangerous memory because it can take us out of our comfortable lives. We need to ask ourselves if “in adoring Christ who is really present in the Eucharist: do I let myself be transformed by him? Do I let the Lord who gives himself to me, guide me to going out ever more from my little enclosure, in order to give, to share, to love him and others?” Following Christ every day allows us to live “truly fruitful” lives that become “instruments of communion,” sharing our very selves “with [Christ] and with our neighbor.”
Sense of worship
Eucharistic Adoration naturally requires that people have access to their local church during the day for prayer, and that parishes do their utmost to keep their churches open for adoration. In a homily in November 2013 Pope Francis spoke of how many Christians “have somewhat lost the sense of worship.” There is a temptation to see our parish church simply as a place where we “come together as brothers and sisters.” This sense of communion and community is very good, but it is only one aspect of what a parish should be. The Pope recommends that we ask ourselves if our churches are “places of worship, do they favor adoration? Do our celebrations foster adoration?” Commenting on the dedication of the Temple in the Old Testament, he spoke of how the Christian today has two Temples, “the material Temple, the place of worship, and the spiritual Temple inside me, where the Holy Spirit dwells – in these two Temples, our attitude should be that of piety, of loving and listening, praying and asking for forgiveness, praising the Lord.”
There is a natural human tendency to feel unworthy in the presence of the Lord. When St. Peter first meets Jesus and realizes who he is, he kneels in front of him and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But rather than leave him, Jesus instead calls him to be an apostle. Today there are many people who are spiritually wounded, and many of them feel unworthy to come to church. Shortly after his election, in an interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, Pope Francis said that he clearly sees “that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.” He explained how he sees “the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds… And you have to start from the ground up.” This attitude of Pope Francis with particular respect to the Eucharist can be seen in Evangelli Gaudium, his first major publication as Pope. Here he reminds all the Church that every one of us needs to be close to the Eucharist, and not be afraid of it, as the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
If the Church is a field hospital or an emergency room, this means that our eucharistic celebrations must be open to people who are coming to church wounded by their sins. Pope Francis always promotes a pastoral practice that welcomes and cherishes the sinner. Unfortunately this approach is sometimes viewed as downplaying the seriousness of grave sin. He is certainly aware of this criticism, and in Amoris Laetitia he encourages us to accept all of our brothers and sisters. “I sincerely believe,” the Pope says, “that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, ‘always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.’”
Pope Francis often advises us to go to confession. This is particularly a preparation for those who have been away from the Eucharist for some time. But, unfortunately, there are times when some people are not yet ready to return to the sacraments. In his recent book The Name of God is Mercy Pope Francis recommends that these people go to Confession and, even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution, they can receive a special blessing from the priest. This should not provoke us to lose hope, God works with everybody and has not given up on anyone. God’s grace can overcome any obstacle and heal any wound. Last May in the Jubilee of Mercy celebration with prisoners, the Holy Father encouraged the prisoners to look to God the Father who is like the father of the prodigal son, “who keeps hoping for the return of his son who has fallen by the wayside.” Therefore, if God has not given up on us, we ought never to give in to “the temptation of thinking that we cannot be forgiven.”
This season of Easter is a privileged time to be close to our Eucharistic Savior. On Holy Thursday we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and the celebration of the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday is the supreme manifestation of God’s love that is present in every Mass and present in every Tabernacle in every church throughout the world. May we all draw closer to this special presence of Christ in this Easter season. May we all find the strength to serve our brothers and sisters and discover the love of Christ anew in the Eucharist so that beholding his light our whole lives may be penetrated and transformed by the light of the love of Christ.