In 1869 a correspondent of Saint Peter Julian Eymard named Virginie Danion established a Monastery of Thanksgiving in France. The words of Jesus to the leper made clean pierced her heart: “Were not ten made clean? And where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God but this stranger?” (Luke 17:17-18). And so she organized a community that was devoted to a life of uninterrupted thanksgiving before the Blessed Sacrament.
In Catholic spirituality this act is known as “Adoration.” Believing that the bread of communion becomes the actual Body of Christ after the prayers of consecration in the mass have been prayed, “Adoration” is a special service of devotion during which some of that consecrated bread is placed on the altar of a church and people come to “be with Jesus.” At the monastery in New Mexico the hour after dinner every evening is devoted to this spiritual exercise. Some just sit there in silence. Some pray the Rosary. Some read a devotional book. Some pray prayers of special intercession. Some knit. Some simply rest. The whole idea is to consciously position yourself in the real presence of Christ, and while our understanding of what the elements of communion become after the prayers of consecration have been prayed, most of us have some sense that the bread and cup of communion make the Risen Christ present and visible to the eyes and heart of faith in some special way, and that awareness can make this service meaningful to even the most convinced Protestant. I know that when I am at the monastery this is always my favorite hour of the day, and that I have sought out Catholic churches here in Dallas where this service is a regular part of their life of devotion.
In a letter that the Catholic Bishop of Lucon wrote to Virginie Danion, he explained the power of this act of devotion –
I never go up into the pulpit without seeking to move [souls] to love of the Divine Eucharist, and I often recommend the visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Given that example speaks louder than words, I go habitually to recite Vespers, Compline, and later, Matins and Lauds before the Blessed Sacrament in the cathedral, and at nightfall I make a half-hour’s meditation there. The Lord will, I hope, bless these efforts, by stirring up in a greater number of souls the desire to visit the Blessed Sacrament. I say this only for you, so that your heart may be consoled by it. Persevere in your holy undertaking, in the midst of difficulties and contradictions. The railway cars are overflowing with travelers while the avenues leading to churches where the Holy Eucharist resides are deserted. This is truly the hidden and unknown God. Apply yourself to making Him known, praised, loved, blessed and welcomed.
At Virginie Danion’s Monastery of Thanksgiving at the end of the 19th century, she coupled this act of Adoration with a commitment to a life of the prayer of perpetual thanksgiving. They lived their life consciously in the presence of Jesus Christ, and the content of that life was thanksgiving. All day, every day, all night, every night, this community thought about what Jesus Christ was doing for them and the whole world, and they never stopped giving thanks. I find that idea compelling and their example inspiring.
I have long thought that I Thessalonians 5:18 contains one of the foundational building blocks of the Christian spiritual life: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” As Louis Evely observed: “The great Christian prayers are all prayers of thanksgiving… The religion of what one does for God – those poor, hard, sad things one does for God… is pagan religion… But Christianity is the religion of what God does for us… (which is why) all the letters of St. Paul in the New Testament begin with an act of thanksgiving” (23-25). “Alas,” Fr. Evely lamented, “Christians today seem to have lost this feeling of thanksgiving” (25). And I wonder, what would it take to get it back?
Awareness — mindfulness – attentiveness to what God is doing would seem to be among the very first steps. As someone has written: “When God is seen behind (and in) everything, thanksgiving becomes one’s fundamental attitude.” In a posting for Thanksgiving Day several years ago a sister in a community of perpetual adoration published her “personal grateful list” –
…for family and friends, especially the awkward ones, and life in community; Duncan’s comical nose, snuggled into his blanket; the soft gleam of the sanctuary lamp and the quiet of the oratory; books spilling into every corner; night-scented stock still blooming against the wall; the shock of cold water; grey light on the horizon; the busy patter of squirrels in the roofspace; the De Profundis chanted trustingly at Vigils; fresh bread baking in the kitchen; a manageable inbox; the promise of another day. For all, Deo Gratias.
And in these weeks before Thanksgiving I am challenged to start working on my own “personal grateful list,” to find a quiet sanctuary where Christ is present to share it with Him, and I invite you to join me in the exercise. DBS+