When Angela DeGroote walked into the sanctuary of St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home for her holy hour, she experienced God in a new way.
Though she had been an adorer for 25 years, adoration had been moved from the small chapel into the sprawling sanctuary for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. A cradle Catholic, DeGroote explained there was something different about walking into the church that night, noticing the candles, the Stations of the Cross in the darkness, but mostly the distance she felt from the monstrance on the altar.
“I just got out of the pew, and I moved closer. I moved up to the actual altar, and God gave me a little glimpse of the reality of where I was. Sometimes you go, and you don’t feel anything, you just go because you know you should; it’s where you want to be, but you may not have that feeling,” DeGroote, 50, said. “For just a moment, I realized I had the God of the universe right there with me, no different than Adam and Eve or those that would communicate with him on earth, Mary Magdalene, the apostles. He was there, just as real to me as he was with them. I can’t even really describe it other than I just felt so close to him and so drawn to him. You just feel in that moment you could stay there forever.”
The Real Presence has touched the lives of Catholics in various ways through conversion, knowledge and adoration.
From May 2020 to March 2021, almost 400 people joined the Catholic Church in Arkansas. Belief in the Real Presence likely drew in many, like Amy Lane.
The 46-year-old joined the Church last year at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers along with her family. Raised Methodist, she attended Protestant churches later in life, but the example of her Catholic grandfather-in-law left an impact on her and her husband to convert.
“Growing up, we took Communion at the altar, kneeling. It was a revenant thing, but I was always taught it was a symbol of what Christ had done for me,” she said.
Lane cannot pinpoint an epiphany where her belief in the Real Presence originated but explained it’s a feeling of “I need him” and the perfect example of how “heaven touches earth.” It’s a struggle in society only to see the physical elements of the world, but Lane said the Eucharist is a tangible way God meets us. Even though she admitted she still struggles with referring to the host as Jesus, she believes it is him.
“It is the answer to our longing for eternity and truth and beauty and love and all those things our society is driven to find but is looking for in the wrong places,” Lane said. “... The spiritual is infused into the physical, and I’ve found that so helpful in my daily life, understanding the sacraments of the Catholic Church teaches Christ is present in reconciliation, Christ is present in the Eucharist, Christ is present in marriage; he’s there, he’s with us. He sent his spirit, but he’s always present with us in a different way than I ever understood before.”
Because Christ is present in the Eucharist, there are certain steps Catholics make before receiving, including the sacrament of reconciliation if they have a mortal sin on their soul and fasting for an hour before receiving, according to the Church’s Code of Canon Law. The elderly, infirm or someone caring for such a person doesn’t have to fast.
But it is also important to prepare the heart. For Christine Ferguson, 48, a cradle Catholic, a deeper understanding of the Real Presence came from the Bible study Walking with Purpose at Christ the King Church in Little Rock. She has participated for five years, with the past three as as a co-facilitator.
“I’m a cradle Catholic, and I just have always believed, it’s always been in my heart that’s Christ, that’s the Body and Blood of Christ. I think what it has done is strengthened my knowledge,” she said of the Bible study. “Before, I just believed in blind faith, if that makes sense. But with Walking with Purpose, it gave the Scripture behind tying that Old and New Testament together.”
At Mass, Ferguson said she reflects on the sacrifice Jesus made and what that allows for her.
“I think back in the Old Testament in the temple and the lack of access. If I were a person of that time, I wouldn’t have direct access to God, but because of Jesus’ sacrifice, not only am I able to have access to God, but I have the ability to receive Jesus’ body every week at Mass,” she said, imagining going behind the veiled entrance that kept people from entering the Holy of Holies as described in Exodus and Hebrews when receiving Communion “and there I am, before the presence of Christ.” The barrier between the person and God is lifted.
But standing before God in the Eucharist is just the beginning. During and after she receives it, Ferguson said she reflects on gratitude.
“As I receive Communion, I just imagine being filled or consumed with God. I spend time after I receive Communion asking God to consume my thoughts, mind and body for the next week, and I also pray for everyone’s life” in the parish, that they have that same experience, she said.
Besides receiving Jesus, Catholics are given access to adoring the Blessed Sacrament, either intermittently or for some parishes, 24/7. Eleven parishes in the Diocese of Little Rock have perpetual adoration chapels, with parishioners taking holy hours throughout the 24 hours in a day, seven days a week (except during Mass) to spend time with the Blessed Sacrament.
DeGroote, who has coordinated perpetual adoration in Mountain Home for about 11 years, said she’d often go into adoration with a plan to pray, finish some spiritual reading and then sit in silence with the Lord. But she admitted that some of the best holy hours have been just being with the Lord and “laying down before him all of your concerns.”
“I feel like you can’t love somebody you don’t know, and the more time you spend with that person, the more you can fall in love with them,” she said. “I feel like adoration is that opportunity with one on one interaction, to be there in the presence of the Almighty, the God of the Universe who spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden, and you have him all to yourself right there.”
As a child, Rita Miller remembers attending adoration at St. Peter in Mountain Home and signing up for a 1 a.m. holy hour on Sundays when she turned 18. Today at 26, her days and nights are spent as a stay-at-home mom, taking care of 3-year-old Regina and 1-year-old Benjamin, with one on the way, while her husband John works as a fireman. Still, she attends adoration at 4 p.m. on Fridays with her husband, when he is not working, and their children.
“It’s definitely really important for us. It’s a lot harder having the kids. You can’t focus as much, and it’s harder to get through the prayers, but I think it’s really good for us to keep going, even when the kids are being extremely naughty,” she said with an exasperated laugh. “It definitely brings a sense of peace knowing God is there even when my mom-self is not feeling peaceful. Being able to come to God directly right there is very consoling. It brings that peace I’m longing for throughout the day that I don’t have.”
DeGroote and Miller both explained that bringing children to adore the Blessed Sacrament is important even if they sleep, are not in the mood to pray or have little understanding of the Real Presence. Miller has seen God’s work in settling their anxious hearts. The kids might be crying the whole 15-minute car ride, but as soon as they are in the adoration chapel, many times, they’ll stop.
But it doesn’t mean there aren’t bumpy holy hours. Miller said on a good day, they’ll fold their hands and say their Hail Marys during a rosary. Her son Benjamin will “genuflect in front of Jesus but sometimes face the wrong way,” she laughed.
“I want my kids to know that God’s true presence is there. … It’s definitely worth it in the end,” Miller said.
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