Clouds of sweet incense hung in the air. The small chapel was dimly lit, almost dark except for a few candles, which guarded the altar. They cast golden light on my face as I eyed the little, covered tabernacle seated on the altar. Longing to get closer, I wedged myself in a narrow seat and struggled to kneel down. My arms flopped awkwardly over the back of the seat in front of me. Luckily, no one occupied it. Jesus rested there so quietly amidst the golden light. He was there oncemore amongst his followers asking them to watch and pray. I tried desperately to meditate on what it must have been like watching and waiting in the garden of Olives, knowing something tremendous was about to happen.
Inevitably, my eyes wandered from beneath my chapel veil. I quickly scanned the room and spotted to the left, Father P. He sat, arms crossed, pensively peering towards Jesus in the tabernacle. Rarely did I see a priest so stationary and peaceful. He had this whole “watching and waiting” thing down. My eyes darted back to Jesus. Focus..focus..focus…
After several minutes of struggling, I thought of Jesus as one who gives and loves. Jesus in his self-sacrifice and healing ministry revealed to mankind the benevolence of God. He put a face to beauty, goodness and truth, things previously unseen and indescribable. As beauty, goodness and truth, he ascended the cross and as beauty, goodness and truth, he dwelt in the swaddled tabernacle. Now, my eyes fell on him undisturbed. Drawn, like a moth to light, I unseated and perched on the kneeler directly before the altar.
Up close, I examined the covering’s embroidered design, a chi-rho etched in find gold thread. Green specks dotted the letters like tiny jewels. The shape of the cloth, its whiteness and benevolence comforted me. I needed this closeness. In the soft silence, I felt as though Christ himself were standing before me. I imagined the folds of his robes, the curls of his hair, the smell of dust off the hot roads, his thin lips and sun-tanned face. What would I ask him? For peace in my family, that I may be provided for? That all priests and seminarians be blessed and conformed to his heart? That I will discern the right vocation, once which serves and pleases him?
All of these things and more! Lastly, I asked for healing. In my sins, flaws and swimming array of worries that all too often controlled me, I walked through this life bent over and exhausted. If peace and discernment would come, healing must come first. He who cleansed the lepers and raised the dead, who fed the hungry thousand and transformed bread and wine into his own body and blood, could do anything. I asked him to continue the work begun in me seven years ago. It slowly occurred to me that in fact Christ was there and he listened. At that moment, it was all I needed. The night grew longer and unfortunately, I couldn’t stay forever. I left the chapel in a tranquility unlike the jittery state in which I first arrived.
Making way for the door, I glanced back into the dark sanctuary. The main tabernacle lay open, the candles were extinguished, no red lamp greeted me there. The barrenness struck me. Yet the sight imparted small comfort. The huge soundless aisle loomed like the chasm between God and mankind which would soon be bridged. In the shadows, a parched world thirsted for the Living God whose side would be thrust open to bring healing waters. The striped sanctuary waited like an empty heart, ready to receive its lover. And there, rather than in the face of my Lord, the watchful anticipation was found.