Adore: A Definition

When it comes to love, we tend to use the word adore for those more exalted moments. The lover we adore stands on a pedestal, with her or his adorers gathered round below. For some, the word has fallen into the realm of cuteness. ‘Isn’t that adorable!?’ we ask with that irritating lilt up at the end of the sentence. In commercials, the word heralds the kind of Frenchiness that works perfectly to sell perfume—sorry, eau de cologne—in American malls: j’ador. For Catholics, adore is what we do when we gather around a host in a shining gold frame. We either strum guitar, chant Latin, or sit and stare at it. The latter must strike non-Catholics (and this Catholic) as a very strange activity. Not so much what we are looking at (God and Man in a wafer!), but the idea of just looking at him for an hour. This is why my holy hours tend to be holy half hours, coupled with a rather pleasant nap for the second half.

What is this little word doing? Is it lost to commercials, false ideas of love, cuteness, or a religious practice that I should be good at but I am most certainly not? Recently, I did have a lesson in adoration though, which gave me the sense that perhaps this activity is a bit more commonplace than I had thought.

I work part time at my parish as a custos, a rather antiquated position that consists in folding chasubles, picking up plastic bottles in pews, and occasionally painting window frames. It is not a bad gig for someone looking for a little cash and a sense of importance. One of my other tasks is to make sure there are enough consecrated hosts in the tabernacle. On a recent Sunday, I noticed that one of the ciboria was nearly empty with only a variety of broken hosts within. They were all a little small to distribute to the people of God. I brought the ciborium in to show Fr. Ben, who is a hospital chaplain from Nigeria stationed at our parish. He is primarily known around the parish for his unexpected and beautiful singing, driving a Mercedes (Fr. Benz), helping the dying and the sick, and for one time having a rooster that he kept in a spare bathroom for a week.

I asked Fr. Ben what we should do with the hosts. He peered in the ciborium and took it from me. Went over to the sacramentium sink thingie. Carefully, he poured some water in the ciborium, and soaked the various crumbs. Taking his strong black hands, he massaged the crumbs as they slowly dissolved into the water. Watching his hands tend to Jesus, I realized that perhaps, this is what adoration looks like. A regular pile of crumbs is tossed in the trash or to the birds. But for Fr. Ben, these crumbs took a little attention, took a little care. If we adore someone, we take care. Adoration is taking care.


I had long since cast the word aside in my various romantic adventures and certainly didn’t think it applied to married life. Marriage to me entailed getting past romance and adoring and attending to how one can serve another. It is the willingness to take up a duty. It is the duty of delight as Dorothy Day would call it but nonetheless, adoring was far from it. I am a bit of a neophyte to married life but watching Fr. Ben take care of Jesus reminded me that perhaps marital adoration isn’t too different from Fr. Ben’s eucharistic adoration. It isn’t gathering around a pedestal but taking delight in the duty to take care. Sure, golden monstrances are great, but real adoration is when the host is in your hands, when you let God be so weak as to be in your control and then to let go of that control and serve the other.

I rarely apply this lesson since it would take actual effort, but the one time I can think of when I actually adored was not when I bought perfume or wrote a poem for my wife (I have never done either of those things). Rather, it was after a long day of walking and seeing my wife wincing on her tired feet. I took up her feet with my small hands and massaged them. Sure, they probably smelt bad and it wasn’t much fun. But it was taking care. Adoration isn’t for the cute or for Charlize Theron advertisement. It is taking another into your hands and taking care of them.

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Terence Sweeney

is good at two things: painting houses and reading books. He has one natural talent: his loud voice. And one hobby: drinking beer and talking about things. He is a Ph. D. student in the Villanova Philosophy Department. He lives in Philadelphia and is a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales. You can find more of his writing at First Things and Dappled Things.