Last night I completed my first ever hour of silent Eucharistic Adoration following the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. I wish I could say that I was transformed by holy zeal for the Eucharist and that my attention was rapt as I contemplated the awesome reality of Jesus Christ, really present, body, blood, soul, and divinity under the species of bread and wine. I wish I could say that I didn’t almost nod off three or four times (now I see why Jesus warned and begged the disciples not to fall asleep as they prayed with him in the Garden of Gethsemane that night). I wish I could say that my mind didn’t wander to my latest fiction project or to what I wanted for dinner or whatever other silly, vapid thoughts filled my head. Christ’s warning about the dangers of being lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-16) flashed through my brain, and I would snap back to attention–until the next time. I tried to pray, honest! I wish I could say it was a transcendent spiritual experience. If it wasn’t, whose fault was that?
I’m not a particularly extravagant or public sinner. I’m not an ax murderer, a child molester, or a drug dealer. I daresay, however, that if you were to run through the old list of Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Lust, Avarice, and Gluttony, I can think of a few occasions where I’d have to plead guilty to each. My sins tend to be quieter and more garden-variety: giving in to selfishness, arrogance, laziness, and pettiness; indulging in unkind thoughts and words about others; being to quick to take offense, too long to hold a grudge, and too slow to forgive; visiting websites that are best avoided, if you catch my drift. In short, being a mediocre sinner and an even more mediocre Christian.
And yet, I thought, isn’t that one of the paradoxes of Easter? That the Lord of the Universe, the Creator of All That Is–entered into his creation, became part of it, struggled with it and for it, and transformed it through his suffering, death, and resurrection–all for the sake of a little nebbish like me. In that suffering he experienced everything that his creatures can experience, including hunger, thirst, fear, rejection, failure, abandonment, and a humiliating, painful, and public death. God himself offered to die for my sake, to atone for all those sins great and small, that keep me from loving him and knowing him as I should–as I want to. God didn’t come into the world to reward us for being perfect little ladies and gentlemen who always ate our vegetables, said please and thank you, and had our ducks in a row. No:
- For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
- Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
- But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Graham Greene put it this way in his brilliant novel The Power and the Glory:
Man was so limited he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death. It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or children or a civilisation–it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.
I am one of those half-hearted and corrupt people, but Christ still reaches out to me–from the cross and from the altar at every Mass. I cannot possibly deserve such an invitation or be worthy of such a tremendous gift, but I can accept it with faith and gratitude and take the advice of the psalmist: “ Today if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps. 94:8, Douay-Rheims Version).