The purpose of the Holy Hour is to encourage deep personal encounter with Christ. The holy and glorious God is constantly inviting us to come to Him, to hold converse with Him, to ask for such things as we need and to experience what a blessing there is in fellowship with Him. When we are first ordained it is easy to give self entirely to Christ, for the Lord fills us then with sweetness, just as the mother gives candy to a baby encourage her child to take the first step. The exhilaration, however, does not last long; we quickly learn the cost of discipleship, which means leaving nets and boats and counting tables. The honeymoon soon ends, and so does our self-importance at first hearing that stirring title of “Father.”
Sensitive love or human love declines with time, but divine love does not. The first is concerned with the body which becomes less and less responsive to stimulation, but in the order of grace, the responsiveness of the divine to tiny, human acts of love intensifies.
Neither theological knowledge nor social action alone is enough to keep us in love with Christ unless both are preceded by a personal encounter with Him. When Moses saw the burning bush in the desert, it did not feed on any fuel. The flame, unfed by anything visible, continued to exist without destroying the wood. So personal dedication to Christ does not deform any of our natural gifts, disposition or character; it just renews without killing. As the wood becomes fire and the fire endures, so we become Christ and Christ endures.
I have found that it takes some time to catch fire in prayer. This has been one of the advantages of the daily Hour. It is not so brief as to prevent the soul from collecting itself and shaking off the multitudinous distractions of the world. Sitting before the Presence is like a body exposing itself before the sun to absorb its rays. Silence in the Hour is a tete-a-tete with the Lord. In those moments, one does not so much pour out written prayers, but listening takes its place. We do not say: “Listen, Lord, for Thy servant speaks,” but “Speak Lord, for Thy servant heareth.”
I have often sought some way to explain the fact that we priests know Christ, rather than to know about Christ. Many translations of the Bible use the word “know” to indicate the unity of two-in-one flesh. For example: “Solomon knew her not,” which meant that he had no carnal relations with her. The Blessed Mother said to the Angel at the Anunciation: “I know not man.” St Paul urges husbands to possess their wives in knowledge. The word “know” here indicates two-in-one flesh. The closeness of that identity is drawn from the closeness of the mind with any object that it knows. No knife could ever separate my mind from the idea that it has of an apple. The ecstatic union of husband and wife described as “knowing” is to be the foundation of that love which we priests love Christ.
Intimacy is openness which keeps back no secret and which reveals the heart open to Christ. Too often friends are just “two ships that pass in the night.” Carnal love, despite its seeming intimacy, often can become an exchange of egotisms. The ego is projected onto the other person and what is loved is not the other person, but the pleasure the other person gives. I have noticed throughout my life that whenever I shrank from demands that the encounter made on me, I would become busier and more concerned with activities. This gave me an excuse for saying: “I do not have time,” as a husband can become so absorbed in business as to forget the love of his wife.
It is possible for me to explain how helpful the Holy Hour has been in preserving my vocation. Scripture gives considerable evidence to prove that a priest begins to fail his priesthood when he fails in his love of the Eucharist. Too often, it is assumed that Judas fell because he loved money. Avarice is very rarely the beginning of the lapse and the fall of an ambassador. The history of the Church proves there many with money who stayed in it. The beginning of the fall of Judas and the end of Judas both revolved around the Eucharist. The first mention that our Lord knew who it was who would betray Him is at the end of the sixth chapter of John, which is the announcement of the Eucharist. The fall of Judas came the night Our Lord gave the Eucharist, the night of the Last Supper.
The Eucharist is so essential to our one-ness with Christ that as soon as Our Lord announced it in the Gospel, it began to be the test of the fidelity of His followers. First, He lost the masses, for it was too hard a saying and they no longer followed Him. Secondly, He lost some of His disciples: “They walked with Him no more.” Third, it split His apostolic band, for Judas is here announced as the betrayer.
So the Holy Hour, quite apart from all its positive spiritual benefits, kept my feet from wandering too far. Being tethered to a tabernacle, one’s rope for finding other pastures is not so long. That dim tabernacle lamp, however pale and faint, had some mysterious luminosity to darken the brightness of “bright lights.” The Holy Hour became like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world. Even when it seemed so unprofitable and lacking in spiritual intimacy, I still had the sensation of being at least like a dog at the master’s door, ready in case he called me.
The Hour too, became a magister and teacher, for although before we love anyone we must have a knowledge of that person, nevertheless, after we know, it is love that increases knowledge. Theological insights are gained not only from the two covers of a treatise, but from two knees on a pre-dieu before a tabernacle. Finally, making a Holy Hour everyday constituted for me one area of life in which I could preach what I practiced. I very seldom in my life preached fasting in a rigorous kind of way, for I always found fasting extremely difficult; but I could ask others to make the Hour, because I made it.