True Love is a Real Presence

“Father, can we pray together in Adoration sometimes before the meetings?”

That request came to me from some of my students as they discussed plans to start a pro-life club in the high school last year, and it filled my heart with hope.

A good number of students express their affection for Eucharistic Adoration. They say it moves them – that the experience is peaceful. But this was the first time a student had specifically asked for it. I imagined what Philip must have felt when the Greeks approached him with the appeal, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).

Young people turn away from the Church for so many reasons, and that’s hard to see. It seems that most fall away because of their parents’ indifference. The separation is gradual and often goes undetected until there is real disassociation. But some have thought it through. They speak of their disappointment with parish life, particularly the experience of Sunday Mass. They distance themselves from the Church’s moral teachings, calling them irrelevant. They are ashamed of the Church or perhaps embarrassed by Christ.

But even now there is hope, because while some young people may be moving away from the Church, still others are asking for Eucharistic Adoration. After experiencing it in the school in many ways – sometimes quietly with a class or club, sometimes with the entire student body – they are learning that Christ can be found in the experience of Exposition and Benediction.

But why would young people want to find Christ at all? If they’re so disappointed in the experience of their religion and so threatened by its moral claims, why would any of them still seek the one with whom the Church identifies, the one from whom the Church’s authority flows? What is it the seek when they ask for the Adoration? Do they know that they are asking for Christ? I wonder sometimes.

To be honest, I’m not always perfectly sure why I seek Christ. I just know that I do, that my affection is for him. Like Peter, after being told by the Lord, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood,” I respond, “I don’t know how you’re going to do this, but to whom shall I go? My affection is for you.” Something in the promise of the Eucharist corresponds to a desire in me for its fulfillment. Perhaps the best way to make sense of my students’ request for Adoration is to say simply that something in the experience corresponds to their desires.

On the one hand, some desire change – a change in circumstance or outlook on life perhaps. The Eucharist promises that change. It says that God can transform the ordinary bread of their lives into a sacred dwelling place, into a Host. To those young people desiring change, the Eucharist promises them the fulfillment of that desire, “I once was dead, but now I live forever” (Revelation 1:18).

On the other hand, to those who desire an unchanging love, those, for example, who have been betrayed or whose lives are unsettled, the enduring presence of the Eucharist promises them, “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).

In either case, the presence of our Lord in the monstrance offers my students an experience of a deeply satisfying encounter with Christ that disarms them with beauty and compels them by a great love.

Woven into the fabric of today’s culture are so many expressions of doubt in their own ability to sacrifice. The ideas they espouse and so many of their decisions are based on this lack of trust in their potential to respond with mercy to the needs of others. There is a weakness in their hearts. But every time I expose the Blessed Sacrament for my students, I witness Christ moving them to recognize his hidden presence in what looks like bread, offering them also the hope of being able to reverence his presence hidden in their neighbor. With every experience of Adoration, my students take one step closer to knowing not only that they are loved, but that they themselves are capable of loving others, something they otherwise doubt.

I was there when Pope Francis asked the young people at World Youth Day in Krakow, “Are you looking for cheap thrills, or are you looking for grace?” I observed my students respond with certainty, “Grace!” Their faces were aglow with joy, their eyes fixed on the Holy Father. They desired grace. They desired God. And what a risk for them! Because, as we know, the experience of God’s grace is always accompanied by the call to love others. Nevertheless, they cried out, because they still want to realize that unfading destiny of their humanity to love. The Eucharist contains a promise that they too can love like Jesus.

Is it any wonder that the request for Adoration would come from these students of mine who are members of our pro-life club? After all, what are pro-life issues but destructive symptoms of humanity’s self-doubt? Detached from the source of love, many are paralyzed before the demands of love. But these young people know that the Eucharist can liberate them with its promise of life-giving change. Belonging to a generation of young people that wrestles with discouragement, these students are beginning to believe, because of their experience of Adoration, that real and lasting change is possible – that true love is a real presence.