The Gift of Adoration: A New Peace

I haven’t slept in two days, so it’s time to blog! I’m up anyway.

Last night I attended my second deliberate Adoration in probably at least 10 years. It was never a part of my life growing up, even though I was very close to my aunt who was a nun. She never was pushy about our faith, and that gave me the freedom to come to it on my own. I appreciated that about her.

Since December I’ve been part of a large group of young Catholics in Wichita, and it’s been life-changing. I’ve grown deeper into my faith than I ever would have expected, because my friends are serious Catholics. And a lot of the activities we do are based around Catholicism and enjoying the fruits of it together as a group. None of us are married or have children yet– it’s awesome. We are able to just relax and really have fun together.

Last night I only went for about 30 minutes. But it was just right. It was in a smaller chapel, with lots of candles lit. I wasn’t dressed up– I was just me. I felt comfortable. I had brought along a book for reflection, my Bible, and a journal I haven’t written in since 2015. It has The Blessed Mother on the cover in the style of a stained glass window and it was meant to be a prayer journal. I found it at home and brought it along. I had a plan.

I wasn’t emotional this time, just very calm. And I didn’t put any expectations on myself to stay the whole hour– I just left when I felt ready. I drove home feeling cleansed.

The first time I had gone, maybe a month ago, it was a completely different experience.

I had just bought a book at a Catholic gift store specifically to help you pray, called, “God, I have Issues: 50 Ways to Pray No Matter How You Feel,” by Mark E. Thibodeaux, S.J..  It has an index of different feelings that might be challenging and I knew it would really help me. I was feeling stuck and helpless. Whenever I feel that way, I tend to look inward and pray about it. Finding this book felt like a clue, a way that God was reaching out to guide me through this confusion.

When I brought the book and my Bible that first Adoration, it gave me a structured way to both pray and to read Scripture. There is a Scripture quote, a reflection, and then multiple other Scriptural verses to connect more deeply with the message. Then quotes of regular people on the same topic. It’s amazing. I would recommend this book to anyone.

This focused prayer unlocked powerful feelings in me and I found myself sobbing. For most of the time I was there, honestly. And it was so healing.

I realized that Adoration is entirely different from Mass, in a beautiful way. There is no routine or expectation for how you spend your time there. I don’t need to listen to anything being read, keep up with the responses, look up songs, sing, stand, kneel, sit, get up to receive Holy Communion. I don’t need to Confess anything to a priest. I don’t need to move or interact with anyone nearby. It’s entirely my choice. I could simply sit there and be if what I needed.  But it was still communal– I knew my friends were around me, sharing the moment.

It was cathartic in a way that I’ve never even experienced in Confession.

And most exciting, I made it the entire hour! I never felt bored, or pressured.

I remembered my previous experience, 10 years ago. I hadn’t expected to go to Adoration, I had shown up to a meeting of single Catholic adults but sadly it was not as dynamic or organized. I was annoyed. I was bored.

I think I had left after 10 minutes.

It was good to know I have developed a deeper connection since then.

These events are held once a month, and I want to go more often.

 

Best Confession Ever: I Laughed, I Cried, I High-Fived!

Friday night to Saturday afternoon I attended my first Catholic retreat since moving to Kansas, and my first TRUE retreat since college. It was groundbreaking for me.

I chose to go because it was based on the Blessed Mother, and I have a devotion to her. And also because I thought it would be a wonderful way to meet some new Catholic friends, as it was hosted a local group for Catholic singles in the their 20’s and 30’s.  I already had some friends in it, who invited me and encouraged me to attend. It was meticulously and lovingly planned with a good balance of themed talks, group worship times such as Adoration and Mass, and also opportunities to break into small group discussions and prayers. Overnight accommodations and meals were included.

But Friday night was the most pivotal time for me. During Adoration, we could sign up for Confession if we chose. Three priests were available. It was also our choice between the traditional screen or face-to-face. I chose face-to-face and didn’t need to wait long. Maybe 20 minutes.

I was surprised to find a young, hip priest. Probably younger than me. He wore his red hair cut short and a long beard, along with a black hoodie with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. He had on black sneakers to match his uniform, but no visible tattoos. He looked like someone I might be friends with if I met him somewhere else. He was in no hurry. He allowed me to talk a bit and then asked some questions, such as which sins I wanted forgiven. There was no judgement in his eyes or voice. He then asked WHO I wanted to forgive and I surprised myself when I named someone I had been struggling with a lot of resentment towards. I had no idea that apparently deep down, this anger at that person bothers me and I wanted to let it go. He then asked again and I was even more shocked to name… myself.

But it was clear he had expected this answer, and maybe had been gently leading me toward it. I’ve always been someone who enjoys the Sacrament and ritual of Confession. But this year if I’m honest, I’ve been disappointed because I missed out on it when I traditionally go, during December near Christmas. I moved from Illinois back home to Kansas with my parents in early November and at first we stayed with a cousin. Then about five weeks later, we moved into the new home they closed on, in the same city. So December was about unloading and unpacking, and my parents needed a lot of my help. I had abandoned my plans for Confession when they asked for my help and I never made it up at a different parish.

But now here was the opportunity to do that.

This priest listened with the patience and focus of someone much older. But especially, the  way he heard my confession belied how much he cherishes his job and his personal connection with Jesus. I’m used to a few questions, maybe a few “Mmm-hmmms,” and ultimately a “Go in peace, my child,” with the spiritual prescription of how many prayers will restore my soul. A lot of times I’ve left feeling that I wanted something more, wishing the priest had talked to me. But I always reminded myself that I had no idea how many people they were listening to and that my expectations were too high.

This priest also spoke softly and sparingly.  But like Silent Bob, the words he did choose were profound. Somehow I found myself laughing, most likely at my own astonishment that I was enjoying this so much much. Then I cried, after I forgave the person I named and myself. The relief was instant and total.

It was the first time that I felt a deeper meaning during Confession. I realized that through this priest, I felt the grace and love and holy presence of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

At the end he priest raised both hands above his head to bless me. And I first I raised mine too. Then he spoke, and I lowered my head and hands and surrendered all the feelings I had been carrying. Doubt, anxiety, depression, shame, envy, resentment.

He verbally released the “spirit” of several of these feelings. And I felt lighter.

Then I looked up and admitted with a joke,

“I thought at first you were going to high-five me!”

Of course then *he laughed, and we DID actually high-five overhead with both hands. Like we were teammates who had just played a great game together and were sharing the victory. Which, I suppose, we kind of did. Confession is a team effort.

I was lucky to have a priest who allowed me to feel safe in vulnerability and who cared enough to respond in detail to several things I shared. That is special. So of course, I asked which parish he serves and what his name was. I have been visiting several area parishes trying to find my *home, but there are so many! I will now make a point to attend a Mass there and seek him out next time I need to confess.

It was like having coffee with a friend who knows you well. Who has compassion for you but also gently calls you out and points you toward self-awareness.

I felt healed, full of hope. It was like the best runner’s high ever, only in my heart.

I’ve always felt more comfortable with Mary, but held Jesus at somewhat of a distance. Now, I feel open to the possibility of knowing Him more. What if I could replicate that feeling I had in Confession– directly with Jesus? It would take some work and time.

But oh, would it be worth it.

And quickly, I also had a wonderful moment of connection Friday night before that.

I met a new friend with electric blue hair and we talked non-stop! I noticed a beautiful navy prayer veil with her things, since she was sitting next to me at a table. I asked about it, having read about them online and how prayer veils were making a comeback with many modern women. She was happy with the compliment and asked if I wanted to try an extra one she had brought with her? It was in her room and she offered to get it and let me wear it to Adoration.

It was a white infinity style veil and she even had a little metal comb to fasten it to my hair. Walking to Adoration and then Confession wearing it, I felt something extra. I loved that my first opportunity to pray with one was an offer of friendship. I had wondered about buying one for myself and this showed me that it is absolutely something I want to do. I felt even more connected to the Blessed Mother, adorned in her beautiful veil.

What gifts I received this weekend!

A Sunday Evening Surprise

I over-slept for Mass this morning, but it appears there was a reason.

Instead I went to the 6 p.m. Mass at another local church.

I was feeling disconnected, lonely. This parish is huge– it was hard to hear. I arrived late, too. I felt bad.

But I thought I recognized the woman in the pew behind me to be a childhood friend’s mother. We were both alone. And both of us waited till after the priest had walked down the aisle and music ended– many others had already exited.

That’s a traditional thing, a respect. I learned it in my Catholic grammar school.

I didn’t see any signs of recognition, but decided to take a chance.

“Are you So-and-so’s mom?”

Yes, she confirmed– I told her my name. Yes, she remembered.

The smile of recognition! She had lived next door to my family when we first moved to Illinois. I probably haven’t seen her in around 15 years, if not longer! We stood at about the same height.

Same red hair and gentle manner.

I’ve never done that before– stayed that long to talk to someone after Mass– at any church I’ve attended over the years.

What a blessing.

Since I’m friends with her daughter on Facebook, I congratulated her on becoming a grandmother, and her daughter’s professional success as a police officer. She is proud! We talked about Adoration, about being Catholic, about different parishes in the area and how we like them.

She recommended a great priest at that parish for Confession, who really listens. She told me about her favorite Mass, since this parish offers many and it quite large and diverse.

I’m so delighted to reconnect with another devout woman! We may go to Mass together one day. She told me to find her on Facebook.

God, I know you’re listening. 🙂 Thanks!

God, Again

Today I had a shorter shift, so I did something I rarely get to do: went to Saturday afternoon Mass.

Right here, in Joliet.

And it was just what I needed. I could hear everything.

The priest’s Homily talked about Adoration and the Real Presence of Christ.

That’s what makes Catholics special– that’s why we are so devoted. We believe in the Real Presence.

He talked about how we naturally want to spend time in Christ’s presence. That’s why we go to Mass, that’s why we sometimes go to Adoration.

When I try to make sense of Jesus by reading the Bible or other religious literature, it just doesn’t work.

But when I go to Mass, I feel calm. I feel loved. I see people all around me who believe what I believe.

And I realized today that whenever I’m in a Catholic church, I’m home. I don’t need to go to Chicago to experience something special or exciting. I see the Body of Christ all around me, reciting the Nicene Creed.

I can find it right here in my hometown. Even better, I saw a co-worker during Communion. I NEVER would have guessed him to be a man of faith– especially not mine! I felt then that God definitely has a sense of humor.

I realized I prefer the word Christ to Jesus. It’s more reverent. Majestic.

The power of Christ is gentle. Steadfast. Open.

If you’ve ever wondered what Catholicism is about, you won’t find it in a debate on facebook. You certainly won’t find it in a Salon.com article.

Stop looking for ideas and research and “proof” to validate your beliefs. Stop obsessing about dogma.

Look to the people around you who love you. Look inside your heart.

If you allow yourself to be vulnerable enough, you may just FEEL something. Something wonderful.

Something mysterious and loving. And THAT is God.

Just consider going inside a Catholic church– it’s quiet. A sanctuary. If you’re lucky, there may even be real candles you can light. And just be there. Maybe pray. Or not. You’ll be safe.

You don’t have to be one of “us” — just go. Just see. No one’s going to kick you out.

If one parish or church doesn’t feel right to you– there are so many others. Don’t give up.

Today, I felt that I wanted to invite someone to Mass with me. I used to think of that as so aggressive and even annoying. But now, I feel like it’s something I want to share.

I still feel shy about it. But I’m at least open to the idea.

Heart of Mary (for 99 cents!)

The Heart of Mary now beats in my car.

I found a cheap necklace today for 99 cents– and knew I needed to buy it. I don’t care that it’s not real gold– it’s the symbolism.

I feel protected so often while I’m driving. I’ve been pulled over but not ticketed many times. (Not because I flirt my way out of it!)  I’ve avoided near-accidents in ways that only can be explained by a feeling of grace. I must have a whole team of Guardian Angels.

I took down the stupid unicorn air freshener and necklace I previously had hanging in my car. Rosaries are too long and clunky, since I’ve tried those before. This necklace is just the right length, and it won’t get in the way of anything.

On Oct. 3, I prayed my first Rosary. I know, it seems ridiculous that I’m almost 32 and have never done one before. But although my entire family on both sides (and my step-mother’s side!) is Catholic, they are not punitive type who threatened I would be damned if I didn’t compulsively pray. I felt that praying a Rosary was intimidating, so I never tried it.

But I decided to try it in honor of my Aunt Mary Jane, a Catholic nun for 59 years. On the second anniversary of her death, I wanted to feel close to her. I used to call her whenever I wanted to talk about Catholicism, God, or matters of faith. She sent me icon cards my entire life, braided palms with me on Easter, and gently encouraged me to keep going to Mass. But she never shamed me when I felt distant from the church– and that’s why I was able to come back to it as an adult. Her faith was so strong, she knew I’d find my way home without pressure.

So I put on a black dress, with a broach of hers I’d chosen after her death. I wore the golden cross she had given me.

I went to a local church that’s kept open all day for Adoration. I brought one of my rosaries (I have several) , and I picked up a simple pamphlet there– on the basic steps of how to pray the Rosary.

And I did my best to begin.

I was alone in the church, and felt safe and peaceful.

Soon, I was crying. The rhythm of whispering the Hail Marys was healing, and it was more cathartic than anything else I’ve tried.

It’ll take practice. I don’t think I did it all right, it’s a lot to learn. But it’s something I plan to try again and I want it to become part of my routine. I’m inviting the Blessed Mother into my heart, and already I feel better.

So now I gave her a home in my car as well, and I feel closer to my aunt by doing so.