Our society demands productivity, but we can’t let our faith conform to this, writes Ben Swanson
A little while ago I found a little golden ring. I was going up the stairs in my house and it was there sitting on one of the steps. It was thin, it had a break in it, and it wasn’t actually gold. My best guess is that it belonged to a Christmas ornament or decoration of some kind. Whatever it was, it was not designed to be worn.
And yet, I decided to wear it.
I wore it for about two weeks and most people either didn’t notice or didn’t feel the need to comment. My friends noticed immediately and gave me varied feedback mostly in the form of either approval or confusion.
After I had been wearing it for a while the comments mostly shifted to: “Why are you still wearing that?” My answer was always shifty and didn’t really explain at all why I was wearing the ring. “I like it!” was about as specific as I got. For all anyone knew, my choice to wear a little gold-coloured, ring-shaped, piece of metal was entirely based on fashion.
I have since lost the ring but I still want to explain it and what it meant to me during that very short time.
The night I picked it up off the stairs and decided to put it on my finger, I was on my way to Eucharistic adoration at the Adoration Convent of Christ the King (Pink Sisters) at Lincoln, Nebraska. I had been recently directed to start going to adoration more often and was informed that the Pink Sisters were open late.
When I walked into the chapel with the ring on my finger I was greeted by a striking sight. The monstrance that had held the body of Christ each time I had gone in the past few weeks was gone. In its place was a different monstrance that prominently featured a thin golden ring like a halo around Our Lord. It bore a noticeable resemblance to the ring I had just placed around my little finger.
My first reaction was to brush it off as a coincidence. It was far too insignificant to be the direct influence of God and way too easy to explain. Of course, if you pick up a golden ring and then go to a place where there is a monstrance you will find something that resembles that golden ring. Almost all monstrances are circular and gold.
So, it was a coincidence, but what graces God bestows by way of these insignificant coincidences! The decision to see in this moment a call by God to renew my devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was my decision as an expression of my God-given free will. But I got to that moment by following the tug upon my heart that begged me to return to him.
A golden ring means nothing if you are not willing to see the symbol in it and the graces that God wills you to enjoy through it. This moment was a confirmation in me of what I knew to be true. I needed to return to the Eucharist, especially in adoration.
Adoration has always been a special devotion of mine. It was before the Blessed Sacrament that I had my first and greatest ‘come to Jesus’ moment the summer after high school.
There is nothing I can do that is divorced from the call to be with Christ and to be Christ to others”
It was before the Blessed Sacrament that I first felt truly loved and forgiven by Jesus. It was a daily adoration slot that saved my faith during my sophomore year of college.
It was Thursday evening adoration that allowed me to grow in my faith at the very moment I most wanted to give up in London, and that kept me from imploding from loneliness and homesickness in Tanzania.
Tuesday night adoration with Youth 2000 in Dublin was my spiritual rest in an otherwise spiritually exhausting schedule.
I have been called back time and time again to adore my Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Finding a little golden ring may have been insignificant, but the message was clear: Come back to me. In that moment, it was a miracle.
Thus says the Lord:
Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season,
but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.
Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose hope is in the Lord.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes;
its leaves stay green;
in the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.
– Jeremiah 7:5-8
I didn’t begin to realise the full significance of this little golden ring until I left the chapel. That night as I was going to bed I went to take off the ring and decided not to. I decided I was going to wear it at all times.
As I lay there in bed I went to reach for my phone as I always do and felt the ring on my finger. I remembered Christ exposed in that monstrance and I reached for my rosary instead. I fell asleep praying.
In the next days I was constantly aware of the extra bit of metal on my hand. At work, at home, or with friends I was forced to think about the significance of that piece of metal.
The Eucharist was not confined to a chapel but is Christ who is everywhere. He was with me wherever I go. Even more, I was not simply carrying the ring with me but was wearing it. I was inside of it and it was around me. I was regularly made aware of our Eucharistic existence each time that little golden ring caught on something or got in the way. Each time I fidgeted with it I was called back to that little chapel and the miracle that was there. No part of my life is separate from Christ or can be.
There is nothing I can do that is divorced from the call to be with Christ and to be Christ to others.
This integration of the Eucharist into my daily life caused me to realise that I usually have things backwards. I wonder and worry about what my life is supposed to be. What job should I have? Will I get married and have a family? How am I called to make a difference in the world? These questions regularly plague me and fill me with doubt.
I have no clear answers and so often assume this means that my future will be just as murky and aimless. To combat this, I obsess over the future and fabricate grand plans that satiate my desire to matter, or I exhaust myself in stress trying to be productive with my ‘leisure’ time.
I feel anxious if too much of my down time is ‘wasted’ instead of spent doing something I consider useful. Useful could include writing music or reading an important piece of literature (right now it’s The Brothers Karamazov) or writing. I had to force myself to go to adoration before writing this article, and it wasn’t easy to convince myself to do it. Writing is productive and sometimes gets me compliments and recognition.
Eucharistic adoration is not productive in that sense and will never get me compliments or recognition (okay, maybe from the old ladies who frequent the chapel). I forced myself to go to adoration and lose some of the time I needed to write this because that is the very point of this article: to express the immeasurable worth of the Eucharistic adoration that can never be matched by a lifetime’s productiveness.
We spend so much time trying to figure out what we are supposed to do with our lives that we so often forget that it all begins with Christ.
We try to fit Christ into our schedules instead of letting our schedules be shaped by Christ. We make plans to conform our lives to Christ but they so often start at what we will do to get there and skip over the first and most vital piece, that which Christ does.
He is the one who will lead us to himself. He is the one with the plan for us that will bring us happiness. We scurry around from one thing to the next trying to please ourselves, those around us and God without stopping for a moment to spend time with God and give ourselves over to Him.
I guarantee that no saint, canonised or uncanonised, was ever made by their own effort to get to holiness. Holiness is attained by resignation to the will of God. It is attained by regular commitment to a practice of relationship with the divine.
It must be found where God is. It cannot be found as a prerequisite to visiting with Christ. If we are trying to be holy so as to be worthy of God then we shall never realise that we will never be worthy and that God doesn’t care.
Holiness is union with God. That union is achieved through the Eucharist. It could be the Eucharist of sacrifice, charity, scripture, and community, but it will be Eucharist. It will have as its source the life, death, and resurrection of Christ that can be found under the accidents of bread and wine in every Catholic Church in the world.
Every good thing we do must have Christ as its source. Otherwise it is only adding to the noise of the world and can do nothing for our souls. For as Jeremiah told us: “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh…blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.”
We can do everything right, support all the right causes, say all of the right prayers, and change the world with a new non-profit, but if it is done for ourselves it will only help us to fall more deeply in love with our own ego.
Our society demands productivity and our faith can easily conform to that same mould. God, however, does not keep a time card or expect results. He just wants us to give ourselves to him. He wants us to love him as he loves us.
Holiness is attained by resignation to the will of God. It is attained by regular commitment to a practice of relationship with the divine”
Any moment spent entering into a relationship with Christ, listening to his word and conforming our hearts to his, can never be a waste of time. That is where we must start.
For me, Eucharistic adoration is the place I find this relationship most present. It will be different for everyone.
I was reminded of the need to return to Christ by a piece of gold-coloured ring-shaped metal. This insignificant coincidence was the miracle I needed to draw me to Christ in the Eucharist. It was my little reminder to never waste another moment chasing productivity and achievement when that time could be spent resting in the love.
And yes, the irony is not lost on me that the item of note here was a small plain golden ring. Tolkien enthusiasts can rest assured that I have lost the ring and do not find the item itself in any way ‘precious’ to me.
Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stout-hearted, wait for the Lord.
Ben Swanson is a writer who studies philosophy and theology at the University of Notre Dame. He worked at the Dublin-based Notre Dame Centre for Faith and Reason from 2017-2018 and blogs at https://actnaturalblog.weebly.com