Those of us who believe that the Eucharist is really Jesus have to examine our own hearts and lives, too.
Some time ago, I met a man who had once worked for a Western intelligence agency. He was embedded in a majority-Muslim country, posing as a businessman. Given the lawlessness of parts of the country, he had to be driven across it in the dead of night to avoid bandits. As they were speeding across the desert at high speeds, with the headlights off, his driver—a Muslim who had no idea of his true identity—suddenly asked, “What are you doing here?”
The man froze: had his cover been blown? He replied, “What?” and the driver repeated, “What are you doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
The driver then explained, “You told me that you are a Catholic, yes? And you believe that in your church, there is a room where God is. I’m a Muslim, but if I believed that there was a room where God was, I would never leave it. So what are you doing in this country?”
We can imagine Jesus asking each of us the same question of wherever we are instead of being with him: “What are you doing here?” If we really believe Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, do our actions reflect that? Do we make the time we should be with Jesus at Mass? Or what about eucharistic adoration? There really is “a room where God is.” Why don’t we spend more time there?
Eucharistic Dryness and Distraction
I think that there are a few ways we might answer the question of why we don’t spend more time with Jesus in the Eucharist. One reason is because of spiritual dryness. The Eucharist doesn’t always seem to “do” much for us, and so it’s easy to choose to spend our time elsewhere. We would do well to learn from the prophet Elijah, who sought the Lord’s presence not in “the great and strong wind,” or the earthquake, or the fire, but in listening for the “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13). Likewise, Mother Teresa’s spiritual journey shows us that it’s okay if we don’t get a wave of spiritual consolation or a brilliant theological insight every time we go to prayer. She experienced spiritual darkness, and feelings of worthlessness and abandonment by God, even in front of the Blessed Sacrament. And yet she kept coming back faithfully anyway, a faithfulness that Our Lord rewarded abundantly.
Of course, it’s easier to show up for anything, including adoration, if it’s emotionally enriching rather than a spiritual struggle. But being spiritually nourished by Christ in the Eucharist doesn’t always feel like being emotionally uplifted. Emotions aren’t the point of prayer.
Francis de Sales points out that “a child will weep tenderly when it sees its mother bled by the lancet,” but if his mother asks him for “the apple or the piece of candy he holds in his hand, he won’t part with it.” We, too, might weep tenderly at the spear lancing the side of Christ, but “why do we not give him our heart, the sole apple of love that this dear Savior asks from us?”
Conversely, as Fr. Eugene Boylan points out, our most rewarding prayer may turn out to have been in those times where we came away feeling like we had been too distracted:
If we could only realize how much this continual turning back to God shows him our real love for him and pleases him more than that rapt attention that has its roots in selflove, we should never be dissatisfied with our prayer on account of its numerous distractions. [ . . ..] We should be very greatly surprised if we could get a glimpse at the account book that the recording angel keeps, and see the different values he sets on our various attempts at prayer. The prayer that pleased us, and with which we were well satisfied, would often be quite low in his estimate, while the prayer that disgusted us, which was apparently made up of nothing but distractions, might be found to have won a very high degree of his approval.
Marriage isn’t made of continual Hallmark movie moments, and the most important moments in marriage may have been times that seemed ordinary or even stressful. The same is true with our relationship with Jesus: the greatest encounters with Jesus are often the ones without any fireworks.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight dryness and distractions as we can. If there’s something causing spiritual dryness (like a sinful attachment or a lack of spiritual attentiveness), let God uproot it. When distractions come, don’t give in to them, but turn back to God with humility and gratitude. But don’t let their existence—which is perfectly ordinary—discourage you from spending time with Jesus in the Eucharist.
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