Eucharistic Virtue

Corpus Christi, the feast that highlights friendship with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, has a slightly different emphasis than that observed on Holy Thursday, the Church's other great Eucharistic feast.

If Holy Thursday is centered on the gift of Christ's permanent sacrifice in the Mass and the priesthood, Corpus Christi is the feast that celebrates and promotes the adoration of Christ's permanent presence in the tabernacle.

The Eucharistic liturgy can seem a lot more active and dramatic — and communal — than quiet adoration, just “being with” the Lord. But “much can be happening when nothing appears to be happening,” as theologian Father James O'Connor says of Eucharistic adoration in The Hidden Manna, A Theology of the Eucharist.

Would-be adorers should be warned that what could seem like “quiet time” in a semi-deserted church will produce significant and surprising consequences.

I know. It happened to me. Though conser vative about most things, I was really much more of a “cafeteria Catholic” than I would have liked to admit. For example, I used to shake my head in wonder as a “liberal” friend acknowledged his misgivings about using contraception in his marriage. A mere scruple, I thought.

More interested in prayer and spirituality than the trifles of moral theology, I was a newlywed myself when I decided to make a daily holy hour. The practice, while not always easy, quickly became a delight. Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament swept me off my feet and blessed me with his deep and intimate friendship.

As time went on, I felt increasingly unsettled. It seemed I was not responding to this lover of my heart. Eager to help, the Eucharistic Christ seemed to inspire in me this simple prayer: “Lord, let me see myself.”

Slowly, I gained new insights and felt pulled in directions that seemed foreign, not my style. I was newly drawn, for example, to simplicity, greater chastity and charity. Basic Christian precepts that had barely drawn my notice in the past now seemed lush and beautiful. I also felt new remorse for my sins and former attitudes.

One day, while driving alone, I came to this simple yet searing conclusion: “I embrace everything the Church proposes for my belief — and behavior — and will live accordingly, no matter the cost or consequences.” This was not so much my own personal decision as a gift from God that I was free to accept. I did so with joy.

I recently learned that this infused desire to follow God and never to offend him pertains to what St. Ignatius Loyola described as the first degree of humility, the foundation of all virtue.

While I pray for many intentions at adoration, and my family and I have been blessed in myriad ways, it seems that my own heart has been the chief beneficiary. Even in terms of human development and self-understanding, there is “nothing more pleasant, more efficacious” than this sweet exercise.

Those last words are from an encyclical on the Eucharist written by Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, in 1965 right after Vatican II, when the appropriateness of worshipping the Eucharist outside of Mass was questioned by some.

I and so many others have found true Paul VI's words that adoration uniquely “establishes good morals, nourishes virtues … strengthens the weak and calls all to imitate him … meek and humble of heart, seeking not their own interests but those of God.”

Joe Cullen writes from Floral Park, New York.