“Adoration is like sunbathing — you let the sun shine on you, as you truly are. The monstrance is in the shape of the sun. When we sunbathe, we don’t say anything, we just put our face toward the sun in silence, and it’s the sun shining on us.” -Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.
There’s something very Moses-like about this sun bathing or illumination of the face analogy. Remember when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, after seeing God face to face? His face was not sunburnt, but it glowed and it frightened the people. So much so, that he had to hide his face with a veil. He would remove the veil whenever he went to meet God again face to face.
"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him” (Ex 34:29-35).
The word adoration literally suggests a kind of face to face or even more accurately mouth to mouth divine encounter. The word ‘adoration’ comes from the Latin, ad ore which means, “to the mouth”.
This removal of the veil by Moses, followed by a mouth to mouth exchange, sounds like the first kiss of a bride and groom. This marital imagery between the individual and his Creator is seen in the writings of such mystics as St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. They emphasized the burning, passionate eros-like love that God has for his people as a whole. St. Paul describes the Church as the bride of Christ and a groom’s love for his bride is an imitation of Christ’s sacrificial, agape love for his bride the Church.
Saint Therese of Lisieux knew, as a Carmelite sister, that she was the bride of Jesus. She too used marital language when it came to her love for Him and His love for her. It is interesting that when she describes her meeting with Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration that she too uses a solar analogy, speaking of the ‘rays of the Divine Host’. The angelic effect of those rays on her are also revealed.
"O Jesus! on this day, you have fulfilled all my desires. From now on, near the Eucharist, I shall be able to sacrifice myself in silence, to wait for Heaven in peace. Keeping myself open to the rays of the Divine Host, In this furnace of love, I shall be consumed, And like a seraphim, Lord, I shall love You.". Not only did St. Therese have a marital, mouth to mouth, experience as a Carmelite Sister but she also had a pyrotechnic, mystical encounter similar to Moses.
Until we get to Jesus in the Gospels, no one was more intimate with God-Yahweh in the story of the Bible than Moses. Moses, more than any Old Testament figure, provides for us a rubric or pattern to follow as we approach the almighty God in Eucharistic Adoration. His first contact with the Holy Presence can be thought of as a foreshadowing of the Catholic Eucharistic Adoration experience.
In the Exodus chapter three scene we are treated to the most profound mystical encounter between a human being and God. As a biblical meditation, it is loaded with lessons for us, as we attempt to dialogue with Him in Adoration.
The Strange Summons to Adore
“There the angel of the LORD appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed” (Ex 3:2).
The Lord used a pyrotechnic display to get Moses’ attention. In theological terms, it is called a theophany. God reveals himself or his presence through a natural thing in a supernatural way. A bush on fire (natural) but not consumed (supernatural). Once he had his attention, he called him by name.
Something similar happened to Catholic revert, Elizabeth Scalia. Instead of being summoned by fire she heard bells in the distance. She recounts how God called her back to the Church again.
“I’d been driving down a street with the windows open and heard the noontime bells ring as I passed a church. Obeying an impulse I decided to stop in and maybe light a candle. When I entered the church I saw the altar, alive with candles, and the gleaming monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament. “Oh, they do Adoration here,” I thought, with something like joy bubbling up inside me. I fell to my knees before the Presence and simply, quietly adored for what I thought was five minutes. When I rose and looked at the clock, an hour had passed, and I was a Catholic once more, looking forward to making my confession and participating in the life of the Church".
Reverence and Awe, The Moses Way
“When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to look, God called out to him from the bush: Moses! Moses! He answered, ‘Here I am’.” (Ex 3:4)
Moses' response seems to foreshadow the name of God.
This scene showing how God and Moses came together for the first time can help us know where to begin. Our time in adoration could begin with two questions. Who is God? Who am I?
“Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father he continued, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” ( Ex 3:5-6).
God desires and allows Moses to be there, but he wants Moses to have reverence and awe. This external act of removing his sandals is for Moses as well as for the glory of God. It is good for Moses to remove his sandals and sink down to his knees in adoration. He does a deep bow, nearly touching his nose to the ground. He hides his face. In doing so, he is simply acting in accord with reality.
God’s love and mercy are extended to Moses by giving him this intimate proximity to his presence. But that openness and invitation has limits. The truth is that Moses is a mere mortal and God is his almighty Creator. That boundary is what the truth of our Catholic doctrine illuminates.
Because of our divinely revealed doctrine, we know the boundaries in our encounter with God. We remember that we are in the presence of the Lion of Judah, the King, the Logos and the Messiah, and by extension the Father and the Holy Spirit. Their love and mercy generates in us, from our mind to our heart, a sense of profound awe. Like Moses, we too kneel all the way down in adoration when we gain the clarity of the answer of who God is and who we are. In this way, we see reality and act in accordance to it. It is right and just. With the truth of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist firmly in place, we are ready for a dialogue.
The Heart of the Dialogue
God gets to the heart of the matter by expressing his distress and unhappiness that his people are in bondage. The injustice of this disordered relationship must be fixed through justice. A just God desires that their long suffering in bondage be finally answered with a joyful liberation. He picks Moses to do the impossible.
“Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Ex3:9-10).
When we hear in our heart God’s voice in Eucharistic Adoration do we doubt? Do we push back and question God? That is what Moses does inspite of God speaking to him aloud and audibly. He’s not questioning God so much as he is questioning himself and his qualification to be the chosen 'Deliverer'.
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11).
He needed a confidence boost. So God answered,
“I will be with you”.
Moses responds, “But if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” (Ex3:13).
Next comes the height of the dialogue which God initiated. Since it marks a major step toward the Incarnation (God with us), it is a culmination of the exchange between Moses and God.
“God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you”(Ex 3:14).
God Meets us Where we Are
This revelation of his holy Name comes in the middle of the dialogue. When someone reveals their name in the Bible it is as if one is revealing their soul. A name is the external sign of the core identity, mission and essence of a person. It is a step toward a full revelation of God in the person of Jesus. It is also a gesture that demands reciprocation.
Incredibly, Moses pushes back with doubt and protests Yahweh’s plan three more times. Patiently, God answers him and counters his protest with good reasons. Eventually, Yahweh has to show Moses signs as a prelude to the ten plagues. He told him that he too would be able to do these miraculous signs.
Moses tried to get out of his mission one more time, “If you please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.”
Yahweh responds, “I will assist you in speaking and teach you what you are to say”.
But he said, “If you please, my Lord, send someone else!”
After this demonstration of cowardice and lack of faith, Yahweh finally becomes angry. Nevertheless, he condescends and meets Moses half way by promising to send his brother Aaron with him to be the spokesman.
Finally, Moses relents and accepts his mission.
Usually when we enter into a dialogue with God in Adoration it is not a heated debate. We don’t come out of adoration frazzled and stressed out. God met Moses where he was and worked with him until there was confidence and peace in his heart.
Changed by the Encounter
We don’t get to choose our way no matter how unqualified we think we are. God knows us thoroughly and he has a plan and we are a part of that plan. We have a mission. Like a musician in God’s great symphony, we each have a note to play. For Moses, it seemed that God was asking the impossible. In fact the ten plagues and the breaking of pharaoh's will were impossible. The exodus was impossible. Yet, with God sanctioning our mission and empowering us with his words and actions we can do the miraculous and the impossible.
Here, I am reminded of the lyrics of the Catholic hymn, “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart”.
That same courtesy that Moses extended to the people by covering his face with a veil because, "they were afraid to come near him", Jesus extends to us. For our sake and for the sake of having a heartfelt dialogue, he covers His "unapproachable light' (1 Tim 6:16) with the veil of the appearance of bread. Instead of a blazing, pyrotechnic adoration, we enter into a face to face, mouth to mouth, peaceful, and gentle Eucharistic adoration. The thing to remember is that the power and effect of his Divine Rays is the same.