By Bishop James Conley
For 500 years, Christians have been martyred in China. Since the first Jesuit missionaries arrived in China, Christians have been put to death for proclaiming Jesus Christ. Emperors, nationalists, and communists have persecuted Christianity, often by the sword. Martyrs may one day convert China. But there is one Chinese martyr whose life and death may have already converted millions.
During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, nationalist forces sought to usurp economic and political control of China from Western powers. Christianity was viewed as a symbol of Western colonialism; so Chinese soldiers were ordered to destroy Catholic churches across the country. They took tabernacles and sacred vessels, and imprisoned Catholic priests. There was one church in the Chinese countryside that was destroyed, while a small girl hid in the back, unnoticed but observant. She watched as the priest was arrested, as the tabernacle was torn away, and as the Sacred Hosts, stored within a ciborium, were strewn across the floor. The girl noticed where the Hosts landed, and noticed that the soldiers never bothered to pick them up.
She went back to her home that afternoon, and told her parents what she had seen. And that night, slipping past guards and police officers, she snuck back into the Church, knelt before the discarded Hosts, and spent an hour in adoration. After she had spent time in prayer, she consumed one of the Hosts, and secretly made her way back home.
Thirty-two hosts had been thrown across the church floor, and for 32 consecutive nights the young girl went back to the Church. Spending time in adoration, one by one, she consumed the Holy Eucharist.
On the last night, after the girl had received the Eucharist, she accidentally woke a sleeping guard, who chased her down and beat her to death. The parish priest, under house arrest but watching from his window, stood by helplessly as the girl became a martyr.
The story of the girl’s martyrdom was passed from home to home, and from priest to priest, and eventually it was heard by the young Father Fulton Sheen, the man who would become an archbishop and one of the most effective evangelists in the history of the United States.
When Father Sheen heard the story of this young martyr, he resolved that he would spend an hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament every day for the rest of his life, and promote adoration of Christ in the Eucharist. He did so, with radio and television programs that reached millions of American homes.
The graces of that martyr’s witness helped bring Christ to millions of Americans. But few had ever heard of her.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can have a profound effect. Adoration can transform cities and nations, and it can transform hearts. But the impact of adoration often goes unnoticed. Humble, quiet, simple prayer, which begins every good work, is often forgotten, or dismissed.
The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, is known across the country for its vibrant Catholic life. Everywhere I go, people have heard about our parishes, our priests and seminarians, and about our devout, generous families. But few realize that the successes of the Diocese of Lincoln are a tribute to the power of Eucharistic adoration.
We are blessed, beyond measure, in this diocese, by the prayers of two houses of contemplative nuns, whose very lives are dedicated to the adoration of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We’re also blessed by parishes where adoration is long-standing custom, and the practice of regular Eucharistic adoration is passed from grandparents, to parents, to children.
However we have been blessed in the Diocese of Lincoln, we have been blessed because of the men and women who commit to spending time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament–especially when Christ is exposed in a monstrance–exposed for our contemplation.
In 1996, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote that “when we contemplate him present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, Christ draws near to us and becomes more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. He grants us a share in his divine life in a transforming union and, in the Spirit, he gives us access to the Father.” Adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament will draw us each into an intimate union with the Most Holy Trinity.
During Lent, we’re called to make time for prayer, for fasting, and for almsgiving. I pray that you will make time this Lent for adoration of Jesus Christ, in the most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
“I keep up the Holy Hour to grow more and more into His likeness” said Archbishop Fulton Sheen. “Looking at the Eucharistic Lord for an hour transforms the heart in a mysterious way as the face of Moses was transformed after his companionship with God on the mountain.”
May we contemplate Christ this Lent. And may our hearts, our families, and our nation be transformed.
Reprinted with permission of the Southern Nebraska Register.