My classmates and I have been down here at the seminary for a couple weeks now, here for our Intensive Period of Spiritual Formation, or IPSF for short. I’ve been hearing for years now that this summer between Theology I and Theology II can have a huge impact, not just on the upcoming year, but on our whole priesthood. And with the amount of time we have for prayer, it’s not really a surprise.
This is really becoming clear, challengingly so, during my holy hour each day. Or should I say my holy hours! All during the school year, we have a chance for Adoration as a community pretty much every single day. And while up here at IPSF, we’ve been invited to spend one hour in prayer by ourselves, and then another hour together as a class in Adoration. For me, it’s a great chance to remember every day my times praying with all of you, whether it be at Camp in the summer, at Lifenights, or even that Confirmation Sponsor night where I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, to join you all in some time of Adoration.
So what exactly is the holy hour? Is it an hour of the day that we give to God? Or maybe it’s an hour in which we force ourselves to sit before the Lord in the Church, watching the time slowly tick by, minute by minute. And then if we skip out early, we feel guilt tripped, as if hearing Jesus’ own voice saying to us, “Could you not watch with me even one hour?” Well, it can be these things, but it’s really so much more. Still, honestly, sometimes an hour straight of prayer might feel a little too long.
That is, until we ask God (just ask Him!) to open our eyes to see just what is really happening during anytime we pray, whether it be silently and by ourselves, or listening or playing music, or even in Adoration with a few friends or with a few hundred friends: we are not giving an hour to God- God is giving us the holy hour.
Some of my favorite ways to describe the holy hour come from some people who’ve really struggled with prayer themselves. But they stuck with it, and became known for how much they were able to give to others. And they could only do this because of how much they received from God in their daily holy hour before the Eucharist. Like St. John Vianney, who met an old farmer who told him simply and profoundly, “I look at God, and God looks at me.” Blessed Mother Theresa used to close and lock the house where she and her sisters lived during their holy hour because she knew that if they were distracted away from their time of prayer each day they would not be able to bring Christ to others. We need to come to know Him first! Blessed (soon to be Saint!!!) John Paul II described that moment of meeting Christ in Adoration as laying our head against His chest, as St. John did at the Last Supper, to hear His heart beat. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen struck me early on in my time in the seminary when I read his exclamation that we cannot set God’s people on fire unless we first receive the spark from the Tabernacle.
So what is the holy hour to me? It’s a struggle sometimes, to be honest. But it’s also one of the most important times of my day. When I miss it, I feel it. But it certainly has not always been this way. Actually, before this year, it was always a constant struggle. When I first entered the seminary, I could barely sit still for ten minutes, so forget about two hours! And so it’s taken four years now to fall in love with meeting Christ in the Blessed Sacrament in this way every day. And it will take the rest of my life to get ready to meet Him face to face, when that time comes. I like to think that’s what the holy hour is: meeting our God face to face, feeling His breath, resting our head on his heart..
So don’t be afraid to spend some time before our Lord, whether by yourself or with others. An hour may seem like a long time, trust me, I know, but we have to work our way up to it. And the only really wrong way to pray is to not pray at all. And it’s definitely not always easy. God has never promised it to always be easy. It’s not always easy to sit quietly with our family. Or look face to face with a loved one, while you look at them and they look at you. To listen to someone else’s heart beat can be tremendously intimate, almost like a kiss, but it can also be nerve-wracking, uncomfortable. And yes, the fire can burn, but it can also bring new life, and purify, transforming life. Don’t be afraid to meet Him daily! Aside from Mass, simply looking at God, face to face in prayer will be the most important thing you can do all day. Do not let the devil take it way from you. Do not be afraid to receive the time and the presence God will always give to you. Feel His breath, hear His heart beat! Because we cannot give to others what we have not first received from Him.