I originally preached this homily in Tegelen, The Netherlands, at the monastery of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration on the feast of the Epiphany 2013.
Receive the Light
The Epiphany is, in a supereminent degree, the great liturgical festival of adoration. Beginning with First Vespers, the Church invites us to receive the radiant light of Christ; the light that shines from His Face; the light that illumines all who approach Him; the light that rises over a world plunged into darkness, giving joy to those who sorrow, hope to those who despair, and truth to those deceived by every manner of idolatry and falsehood.
Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for they light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3).
Compelled to Adore
When a soul perceives the light of Christ, that soul is compelled to adore. Thus do we hear in the Holy Gospel: “And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him.” (Matthew 2:11).
Into the House
There are, if you will, three moments in the grace of adoration. The first of these is the perception of the light. To see the light of Christ one must enter into the house that is the Church; from the outside, it appears, to some, small and, perhaps, confining. But when one enters the house of the Church Catholic, one discovers, from within, that it is immensely spacious. The Church is the place of the Divine Hospitality on earth. Not only is there room in the house of the Church for all; there is also pure water for cleansing; oil for the healing of every infirmity; and a banquet made ready with the living Bread come down from heaven, and with the joy-giving chalice of Christ’s Precious Blood.
Where Mary is Mother
The house of the Church is Mary’s house. Therein she is Mother: Mother, not only of Christ the Head, the Infant nourished at her breast, but also of the members of the Body of Christ, from the least to the greatest, all of whom she draws to her Immaculate Heart. Mary’s Virgin Body is the radiant monstrance of the Body of Christ; she holds Him in such a way as to show Him to us. She says to every soul who enters the house of the Church, “Arise, be enlightened, for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee.” (Isaiah 60:1).
The Sun of Justice
The light that illumines Mary’s house, the house of the Church, shines from the adorable Body of Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. How can one open one’s eyes to the radiant Body of Christ, exposed in what Mother Mectilde de Bar called the soleil (sun) of the monstrance, and not see the fufilment of the words of the prophet Malachy? “The Sun of justice shall arise, and health — meaning healing and wholeness — in his wings” (Malachy 4:2)
The second moment in the grace of adoration is to fall down as it is written in the Gospel: “and falling down they adored him” (Matthew 2:11). What is this mysterious falling down? It is a response to the brightness of the Light; it is the first movement of one who would adore. To fall down is to attempt to become level with the ground. It is the expression of a profound desire to become very little, very lowly. It is an attempt to say with one’s whole body, that one would wish to be able to pour oneself out, to break oneself open, to allow one’s essence to be spent to the last molecule, like the precious perfume that flowed from the vase of alabaster, filling the whole house with its fragrance (John 12:3). This is what Mother Mectilde of the Holy Sacrament means when she speaks of anéantissement, and when she makes it the very condition of adoration in spirit and in truth.
The third moment in the grace of adoration is the offering of one’s gifts. “And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” These three gifts are, in fact, the symbol of the one and only gift that God desires of us: the offering of ourselves. Mother Mectilde tells us that three qualities are necessary if we are to fulfill our vocation to adoration: firstly, our adoration must be perpetual, that is ceaseless; secondly, it must be made “in spirit”, that is to say, in a spiritual manner; thirdly, it must be made in truth, that is to say, withholding nothing, surrendering all, reserving no particle of what we would offer God for ourselves. We can see these three qualities represented in the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrhh.
The Gold of Perpetuity
The gold represents something of perpetual value, something that has perpetual quality. What, then, does it mean to adore perpetually? Mother Mectilde says, “Our adoration must be perpetual, since it is the same God whom we adore in the Most Holy Sacrament, who is present to us in every place.”
Here we can see that Mother Mectilde’s doctrine of adoration is, in fact, a profoundly personal and life-giving interpretation of Saint Benedict’s Twelfth Degree of Humility in the Holy Rule. For Mother Mectilde, the fullest expression of adoration is humility; and the fullest expression of humility is adoration. For Mother Mectilde, humility and adoration are, in effect, synonymous. The soul who is humble will adore; and the soul who adores will become humble.
Mother Mectilde would have us adore always and everywhere: “in the work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field or wherever a monk may be, whether sitting, walking or standing.” An adoration that is perpetual is an adoration that rises with every breath that we draw, an adoration marked by the rhythm of every heartbeat.
The Frankincense of Sacrifice in Spirit
Frankincense represents the costly spiritual sacrifice that is adoration; frankincense is the vital essence of the tree that produces it; it is, if you will, the lifeblood of the tree. The tree is slashed, and the precious essence bleeds out of it. One who would adore in spirit must be ready to be stripped and slashed, like the frankincense tree, so as to give the blood of one’s very essence in sacrifice. A sacrifice that is measured, and calculated, and weighed, is no sacrifice at all. It cannot be a spiritual sacrifice, that is one worthy of God who created us in His image and likeness to participate in the royal priesthood and in the victimhood of His Son.
The Myrrh of Truth
Myrrh represents adoration in truth. Like frankincense, it is the lifeblood of a tree, of a small thorny tree. When a tree is bled of its essence, one sees it for what it really is. So too, when a soul allows her very essence to be bled out of her in adoration, she is what she is before God. There can be no perseverance in perpetual adoration without this essential bleeding; and without it there can be no sacrifice, no victimhood worthy of the Light that, from the altar, shines before the eyes of the soul.
The Light has shone upon us. We have entered the house: Mary’s house, the house that is the Church. We have heard the Word and, now, with the Magi, but also with our Father Saint Benedict, with Mother Mectilde, and with all the men and and women who have ever adored perpetually, and in spirit, and in truth, we have only to fall down, joining our adoration to theirs, and consenting that, by the mystic overshadowing of the Holy Ghost in this Holy Mass, over the oblations of bread, and wine, and of ourselves, our adoration be consecrated in spirit and in truth.