Reinvigorating Devotion

The Only Place to Be

I pressed my forehead against the hard floor. I felt the coolness of the terrazzo on my face, though it was a sultry midsummer morning.

I had been there dozens of times. It was the only place to be.

I had just finished leading a desperate holy hour with members of our parish. It was a packed church praying for the life of one of our own —a child suffering from a brain aneurysm during a final high-risk surgery to save his life. The friar now raised the monstrance for benediction. Again, I lowered my head before the Lord of heaven and earth.

This was the only place to be.

Little blond-haired boy resting his head on his parent's shoulder

Attaching in Times of Need

Watch any two-year-old at play in his mother’s presence. He begins by playing near her, before going further and further away. He’s exploring, learning, and growing. Should a stranger enter the room or the child scrape his knee—if anything distressing happens—the child does something instinctual. In that moment of duress, the child does not pause to consider some abstract recollection of his mother that gives peace. No. Only the concrete presence of mother brings peace, and it is to her that he runs or for her that he calls. Only the security of her embrace dissipates his distress and gives him the sense of security necessary for the next adventure. This is just the way it works.

Twentieth-century psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, observing this common phenomenon, developed what is known as attachment theory. The idea is fairly simple. Human life is deeply relational, and the most fundamental relationships (that of a child and parents or primary caregivers) radically shape the way we engage with reality. Persons are able to live confidently and securely because of their relationship with the attachment figure (e.g., mother, father, etc.).

An attachment figure acts as both a safe haven and a secure base. As a safe haven, the attachment figure provides safety and surety amid a distressing situation. In the distressing situation, the child returns to the safe haven and regulates his emotions. We can go further and say that in the presence of the attachment figure, the child recovers a sense of himself. Additionally, the attachment figure acts as a base of security, providing the relational stability that makes it possible for the child to venture back out into the world for exploration and ultimately to make his own unique contribution. When a child lacks such attachment figures, when insecurely attached, life can unravel.

As we grow older, our attachment figures may change. Adults may not run back home when they face fear or frustration, but spouses may (and should!) turn to each other. Marriage, for example, provides one with a new attachment figure (cf. Gen. 2:24).

Young girls kneeling before the monstrance in Eucharistic adoration

Attachment to God as an Incarnate Reality

Over and above human attachment figures, however, stands God. The relationship between Creator and creature is the most fundamental attachment relationship, so to speak. In this relationship, we find our true and eternal safe haven and secure base. Human relationships, particularly those existing within the family, it seems to me, hint at and mediate this primordial attachment relationship (cf. CCC §239). However, in Jesus Christ, in his very humanity, the ability to attach to God takes on a previously unimaginable realism. In Jesus, the infinite love of God encounters my finitude through the finitude of his humanity. Christ stands before us as the preeminent attachment figure.

Jesus Christ concretizes God’s relationship with his creatures; he reveals to us the Father. Our relationship with God is real. It is not an idea. And, it is real for us today in and through the ministry of the Church—reaching its pinnacle in the Holy Eucharist.

In Christ, in the Eucharist, secure attachment is possible, even when other relationships fail or desolate circumstances seem to leave us with nowhere to go.

Young woman sitting in an adoration chapel with head bowed in prayer

Returning to the Attachment Figure

The inescapable distress of our times, the sheer confusion caused by our social media culture and fear-factory news outlets, the upheaval of pandemic, the threat of economic collapse, the fragility of our political situation, the concern about where science is heading, the violence of civil unrest makes me question: Where can I go? To whom can I turn? What, if anything, can give me the security necessary to face all of this?

The security I need will not come from an idea or from some “expert” who is actually a stranger, in the same way that the mere idea of his mother will not pacify the child in pain, nor will a stranger. Only the concrete presence of his mother ultimately satisfies.

I am as convinced as ever that right now, there is only one “place” to be, one “place” that can be the safe haven we need in order to have the security to stand in front of and to stay within reality—and it is most concrete. This “place” is not a physical place at all but a relational one. This “place” is abiding in Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist. Over the years, as I grow as a man, a husband, and a father, I find myself turning again and again to the real, concrete presence of God in the Eucharist. He has become my definitive Safe Haven and Secure Base.

When something distressing happens in my life, you’ll likely find me at Mass and in the adoration chapel. Why? In my humanity, it seems, attachment needs a certain concreteness. Jesus knows this (cf. Mt. 28:20). Therefore, the concreteness of encountering the Eucharist matters. The gesture of physically returning to the Safe Haven, to the One who is really and truly present to us in the Eucharist matters. The gesture, the encounter means something—it changes me.

In the midst of any and all of my confusion or distress, God’s enduring presence in the Eucharist offers me the physical closeness, the real presence I need to be okay again, to be whole again. For this reason, it was not at all surprising that a little over a week after the holy hour described in this article’s introduction, the same group of people (and then some), gathered for the funeral Mass of the child for whom we had prayed so ardently. We gathered in sadness. We gathered with questions. We gathered before God’s response to the problem of suffering.

The Eucharist is our Safe Haven, the only place to be.

“In you, LORD, I take refuge... Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to save me. For you are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me.” — Ps. 31:2–4