The Gaze

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I do a weekly adoration hour.

If you are familiar with the devotion of Eucharistic Adoration, skip this paragraph. If not, allow me to explain. In formal settings, when a Catholic church sets up a weekly or daily schedule of Adoration or "Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament," volunteers (like me) sign up to pray during a designated hour. The Blessed Sacrament—the large consecrated Host that a priest elevates during Mass—is "exposed" or "revealed" in a monstrance, that is, an ornate vessel that displays the Host on an altar. Catholics believe in the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. When we sit, stand or kneel before the Blessed Host consecrated at Mass, we are doing so before Jesus Himself. Jesus is there completely in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the auspices of the Host.

You can pray and have your own adoration hour any time before the tabernacle in a Catholic church, as Jesus is Truly Present in the Hosts that are kept in the tabernacle. But it is especially moving to attend a holy hour, or to spend even a few minutes before the Blessed Sacrament, when Jesus in the Host is exposed in the monstrance.

To be honest, I can't remember when I first prayed before the Blessed Sacrament in this way. But I can tell you when it started to make sense. I was in my late twenties. I was a new mom. I was stressed out. I needed time to pray. I needed quiet. I was not used to the long hours that a mom puts in. I was unaccustomed to sacrificing my "old prayer life"—the luxury of long quiet times to be with Jesus, and time to meditate on the Scriptures—being disrupted by this new lifestyle. (Veteran mothers will note that I had a lot to learn!) Frankly, I was not used to dying to self.

Two spiritual lifeboats kept me from sinking when my motherhood life overwhelmed me: making time to attend Eucharistic Adoration, and praying the rosary myself and with others. (The rosary, well, that's another article!)

A friend invited me to the weekly parish prayer group. Hours before the prayer group met, the church was open for silent Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. One night, I knelt down in the pew, settled my attention on the monstrance, and I saw His Face. Not literally, but in my mind's eye. Maybe I should say I knew in a powerful way that Jesus there, focused on me. I saw Jesus looking at me with deep, deep love that reached into the hidden places in my soul. His Gaze took my breath away. And I realized that my heart rate was quickening, not in a disturbing way, but in a Song-of-Songs-here-is-the-lover-of-my-soul kind of way.

The Gaze needed no words. I was known. By Him. I didn't have to explain, petition, or make excuses. I could just "be." And I gave Him my gaze. And there we were, exchanging gaze for gaze. Like lovers.

Later on, I was struck by another reality. I had seen this Gaze before: in the eyes of my husband, in the face of my baby at the breast, in the countenance of a dear friend. The Gaze had been present to me in and through the beloved ones in my life. But now, before this altar, Jesus had me all to Himself. He was the lover and I was the beloved.

Years later, when my husband accepted an out-of-state job transfer, we had a decision to make about where to purchase a home. While visiting this new state, we frequented a parish that offered Eucharistic Adoration on Thursdays. Before the move, I would to fly there on Thursdays to meet my husband who was already working in the new locale. We'd spend all day with the realtors, then stop off at the local Catholic church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The Gaze was there, too. That church became our new home parish. That was many years ago. Since that time, enough people in the parish have invested their lives in prayer so that Eucharistic Adoration isn't just on Thursdays, but seven days a week now.

So I do my weekly hour. And I know He is waiting for me. I even feel a little guilty when my family obligations take me away for a week, or if I'm there with a distracted mind. But He understands.

I pray at other times, at home, in the car, with family and friends, and when I journal. I pray through my day and at Mass. However, there's something special about having that weekly private "appointment" with Jesus. To pray, to listen, to gaze.

In 2004, I was fortunate to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in Assisi, Italy, home to St. Francis and St. Clare and the Basilicas that were built to honor them. St. Francis has long been one of my spiritual heroes. I knew much less about St. Clare, but was drawn to know more about her when I returned home. I found something she wrote in her Second Letter to St. Agnes that has stayed with me, and taught me how to respond to the Gaze:

Gaze upon Him,
Consider Him,
Contemplate Him,
As you desire to imitate Him.

This was originally posted in 2005 at Catholic Exchange, and is re-published with the author's permission.