Ad Oratio: An Intimate God

Loom, Erich McVey

Erich McVey

By Erin Daly

I sat before the Blessed Sacrament with a heavy heart, worn out by the emotional blows of the last few weeks. I had been processing my impending resignation from my job and everything that came with it: feeling guilty that I wound up in a job that I wasn't passionate about, realizing that I needed a career change, wondering if I could stay in my current city or if I needed to be willing to move. And I was still wrestling with the news that I wasn't ready to begin a formal discernment process with a religious order that seemed perfect for me. My life felt like it had come to a crashing halt.

I felt all these things as I sat before Jesus, and I was tired. Physically, mentally, and emotionally drained, not just from the weight of these troubles, but also from the toll they were taking on my spiritual life. I wasn't excited to go to Mass and adoration anymore. I couldn't focus on my usual prayers. All I had to offer Jesus were my anxieties and my half-hearted, distracted devotions. And I felt like I was being a poor lover to my Beloved. He deserved so much more from me. It wasn't enough.

And in that moment of feeling so broken and so desperate in the presence of Jesus, the meaning of the word "adoration" became startlingly and beautifully real to me.

A few years ago I learned through a study program by then-Father Robert Barron that the word "adoration" comes from the Latin "ad oratio," which literally translates to "mouth to mouth." I remember feeling like the wind got knocked out of me when I learned that. Mouth to mouth with Jesus. Consider what that could mean! Mouth to mouth can mean a kiss, a gesture of love and sweetness. And mouth to mouth can mean life support, using one's breath to bring back or strengthen one who is in danger of death. In either of those contexts, mouth to mouth doesn't happen by accident. It's not a casual or meaningless gesture. It’s visceral, personal, and it's motivated by intense emotion: by love, or by desperation.

It's unsettling. It makes us pause and maybe shy away. But this is the nearness with us that Jesus craves. It is in those precious moments in adoration that we come face to face, mouth to mouth, with Him, so close that He lavishes His love on us as with a kiss, so close that He can breathe on us and into us.

I remembered the meaning of the word "adoration" that day and I gasped at the intimacy of the act, at how close I was to my Beloved. But what wrecked me even more was the self-forgetting love that it entails on His part. Adoration is all about honoring and celebrating Jesus. Exposition services pull out all the stops to make sure that due reverence is given to Him--incense, special vestments, beautiful chants. There are special rubrics for how to properly set up an altar to prepare for adoration. I've seen people prostrate themselves and kiss the floor when they enter an adoration chapel. Jesus in the Eucharist is a huge deal, the center of our attention and affections whenever we are in His presence.

And yet, He isn’t there for His own sake and glory.

 For Jesus, adoration is all about us--loving us, restoring us, comforting us, healing us. We come "ad oratio," mouth to mouth, with Him so that we might honor Him, but also that He might love us. That love is why Jesus left Himself in the Eucharist, so He could stay close to us. And that love and that desire for closeness doesn't depend on us. He always wills it. He always wants it. Even when we are filthy, like a mother who doesn't hesitate to grace her dirty child with a kiss. He waits for us with the same burning expectation and love, regardless of whether we are worthy of it, regardless of our ability to return that love.

I knew when I met Him in adoration that day that I didn't need to worry about whether I was being a good lover. His only concern was with bringing me “ad oratio,” with loving and healing me. Even though I felt I had nothing to give Him in return. He didn’t care about that; He only cared about me.

That’s unconditional love—seeing the one you love in distress and thinking not “she’s not loving me and serving me well enough,” but “she’s hurt and I need to be there for her.”  

Sisters, that’s how Jesus looks at all of us when we meet Him in the Eucharist. What sweet relief that should be, to know that we don’t need to have it all together to come to Him. We don’t have to have a heart burning with beautiful sentiments, or a tongue that can effortlessly string together perfect prayers. He accepts even our hurting hearts and fractured prayers. Those are enough for Him, even if they don’t seem like it to us.

He still longs for us in those painful moments when love is difficult. He still draws us “ad oratio,” into that wordless exchange of glances and breath and love. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of who He is.