The air is palpably different, more alive, almost tingling to the touch. The round room always feels like entering home and my gaze is fixed on one spot. Sometimes a river of warmth comes toward me and holiness is not even the right word to describe a feeling this immense. At the same moment, the walls dissolve and I am united with something so much larger than myself, both God and my global family of humanity.
As a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, adoration is a part of the rhythm of my life and the core of my identity.
Recently, however, there have been some new wrinkles in my experience.
When I became Catholic, I discovered that adoration can be used as a technical term to mean more than just awe and glory of God. Its also praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the Body of Christ, the bread consecrated by the priest. What we practice in my congregation is actually exposition, which is the Blessed Sacrament placed in a monstrance (which comes from the Latin word meaning “to show”). Before it, you can actually gaze upon this Body of Christ. I didn’t know any of this before I became Catholic.
But beyond all those specialized explanations, adoration has recently been blowing my mind and changing my life. Every Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. I go with Linda and Eileen, the sisters I live with, to our adoration hour. We sit in silent contemplation before the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We bow. We breathe. We love. We listen. We adore. We have been doing this for years.
The Adoration Chapel at St. Rose Convent in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is central to my life. In fact, it was in this very room where I first discerned with clarity that I was called to religious life as an FSPA. In our chapel, I feel the Real Presence tangibly. God is with me, as well as the prayers of all the sisters and prayer partners that have been praying there since 1878. The very air is thick with holiness.
Yet when you pray in the same place, every week, year after year, sometimes the fireworks begin to fade and the sacred becomes mundane. Recently, though, adoration has become more alive for me.
- Action and Contemplation meet. I was blessed to spend a week with Catholic Charities, providing hospitality to recent Afghan arrivals to the U.S. I sipped tea with the young women practicing their English, played cards with children and even learned how to make the Afghan flag out of construction paper. It wasn’t until I sat in adoration after these experiences that they really came alive for me. Suddenly the ordinary words of the daily psalm, “He will spare the poor and the needy, he will keep their lives safe,” (Ps 72) was like fire in my heart because I knew their names and could see their faces. Keeping their lives safe was not abstract, but actual rescue from war, death and famine. My time in their presence made my prayer vibrant, while the prayer of adoration sustained the perseverance needed for action.
- Pain Softened By Prayer. I live with depression. When it flares up and includes intrusive harmful thoughts, it becomes difficult to do my daily tasks. As I sit down in adoration and face the monstrance, the negative thoughts roar at me and get louder. But then a tender peace gradually comes to my heart. Then, I can rest. Sometimes it is the only moment I can rest in a day. But when this peace arrives, I tangibly feel heat and tingling in my hands, my face relaxes, my heart warms and there is a precious quiet in my thoughts that is worth more than gold.
- Emptiness Becomes Okay. I know a lot of people who are now running on empty after years of pandemic, economic hardships, and political and family crisis. I am one of them. My heart feels empty and the hope I have has been reduced to a fraction. Christ’s Body is visible and present to me, and somehow my emptiness becomes bearable. I feel the aching void in my heart fill with God’s love without denial of legitimate pain. God sees my inability to fix the hardships of our world and daily life. God assures me I am okay, and at the same time God places a vague sense of warm love in the place of my emptiness.
- Christ sees me. I love the term “exposition” for the manner of adoration we practice, because I feel that I am exposed to Christ’s gaze and Christ is exposed to me. This week I memorized a verse from Nan Merril’s translation of Psalm 28, “ Blessed are You, Heart of my heart! For you heed the cry of my spirit.” Ringing in my head, in the silence of adoration, they became true. Christ, the true Heart of my heart, sees me, hears me, knows my every distress and claims me as a child of God.
Twenty years ago this month, I heard that “yes” to FSPA life in the Adoration Chapel and moved to La Crosse to enter into the associate phase — what used to be called postulancy and now is known as candidacy — of discernment.
It is occurring to me that during these years of weekly practice, the meaning and power of adoration has shifted. What was once mystery and fireworks is now something sturdy and surprising: the slow work of God’s constant transformation of my whole life. I cannot wait for the next 20 years!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Hennessey, FSPA, is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She grew up in North Carolina as an active Quaker and became Catholic in 2000. For her, Jesus’ messy business includes falling in love with Christ AND with the People of God! Her heart is on fire for her Franciscan community, poetry and singing and accompanying people through birth, death and the living that comes in between. She currently ministers as a spiritual director at Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse.