I’m not sure why I’m writing this. Some will likely snicker, seeing the entire thing as fantasy or self-promotion or grandstanding. If true, that’s unfortunate because one thing I know for sure is that the event did in fact happen as I’m about to describe. I guess I’m writing because I just needed to tell someone and share both the uneasiness and the joy.
A few years ago, my home parish of St. Marin de Porres expanded the program of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to 24 hours, 7 days a week. Recently retired and always having enjoyed the peace and quiet of the nighttime hours anyway, I signed up for the 0100-0200 time slot on Tuesday mornings. I show up with my Bible and one other religious book and let the moment guide me to either a session of quite meditation, formal prayer like the Rosary, or reading Scripture or my other book.
The morning of Oct 2, 2018, was no different. Slightly before 0100 I settled into an empty pew in the Adoration Chapel – three rows back from the front. Yes, I am a creature of habit. The monstrance gleamed from the spot light and displayed in the center was the true Body and Blood or our Lord. Ten feet away, face to face with my Creator and Redeemer… you could hear a pin drop.
I’ve been working my way through a book that describes the liturgical practices of the first Christians. Part 1 of this book summarizes their common worship services including the prayers, songs, readings and breaking of bread. Part 2 provides the extensive historical evidence documenting these practices in the writings of witnesses such as the New Testament authors, Sts. Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus etc. I previously left off about a dozen chapters in, just getting into the meat of Part 2.
For some reason, tonight I picked up the book and instead of continuing at my bookmark, I turned to Part 3, a short section called ‘The Mass of the Early Christians’. This eight page final chapter was the author’s own vision of a typical Sunday morning worship service for an unnamed Christian man and his family. They lived in a North African port city in times when Christianity was illegal and as such those early Christians lived and practiced in fear of ruthless persecution.
This story is of a family that wakes up hours before sunrise and departs their house for the communal worship service. Fearing detection, they depart in different directions, all heading for the house of a fellow Christian which is used for these weekly gatherings. I sat in the Chapel and read the story of the opening prayers and songs followed by the Scripture readings. These pointed to the pinnacle of the service and that was the breaking of the bread and consecration by the presiding Bishop. The bread was shared throughout the congregation followed by the dismissal. Of course I recognized the structure and flow of this service to be nearly identical to our modern Catholic worship service which we call the Mass. Of course, that was the point of the entire book and I got the message. However, things got really interesting as I finished the last few sentences:
“The bishop pronounces the dismissal. The people leave only gradually, in groups of two or three, and by several exits of the house. As in the darkness, now in the [morning] light, no one wants to attract attention…
Though Christians observe the Lord’s day, Sunday holds no special significance for the rest of the world…
[however] Into that world you carry the Body of Christ.”
I reflected in the silence to let those words sink in. Yes, I must be the light of Christ and carry Him into the world. I must be his voice, His words… This was a very good reminder. A good book indeed.
And then I heard it. It took a couple of seconds to recognize and respond, but it was crystal clear. Unmistakably, I heard the sound of heartbeats.
It wasn’t loud, not a wall-rattling volume kind of loud, but it was clear. Very clear. Anyone that has heard a heartbeat can attest, you could never mistake that rhythmic doublet. It is unique.
THUMP-thump, THUMP-thump, THUMP-thump…
It took me three or four beats for the sound to get my full attention. I guarantee that I was not asleep. I glanced at my watch – 1:36 a.m. – and the beating continued. THUMP-thump, THUMP-thump.
My mind raced for an explanation. Is it a car stereo blaring from the street? Or maybe my own heartbeat? Without moving or even breathing I listened for some clue that would break the mystery. Nothing. THUMP-thump, THUMP-thump…
The sound continued for about 15 seconds and then each of the final four or five beats became clearly softer and softer until they were gone. The entire sequence contained about 20 beats and lasted about 20 seconds.
There had to be an explanation so I sat there listening to the sounds of the night. The air conditioning cycled a few times ending each cycle with a unique low rumble, but that was not what I heard. I turned and asked the other person in the Chapel if he heard anything and the answer was no.
I’m not claiming an explanation for what happened. I can’t explain it. I’m only trying to describe it thoroughly and accurately. I can tell you that I think about it constantly because it was, without question, very real. To me real things have meaning and I struggle to understand that purpose. Perhaps it was a wake-up call for me, or a reminder of some sort, or a call to some action. I might never know for sure and that fact leaves me feeling a bit empty – like I missed the message. But I’m also left with a sense of joy – for being gifted this too-brief and mysterious encounter. But at least now I’ve shared my story.
Or…Maybe it’s not my story at all, maybe the entire event was intended for you.