The Gift of Presence

“Sister, what are you doing?”
“I’m talking to you on the phone.”
“I know that, but what else are you doing right now?”
“Nothing.  I’m talking to you.”

There was a pause, almost as if nine-year-old Stephanie couldn’t believe what I had said.  But once it sank in, and she was assured she had my undivided attention, Stephanie began sharing everything: from how her first year at a new school was going, to her little sister’s latest adventures, to the deeper matters of her tender heart.

When I hung up the phone, I was struck to recall her question: “… but what else are you doing?” I was slightly ashamed to remember that at the precise moment she had asked the question, I was just reaching for my computer mouse to check email while on the phone with her. Thankfully she recalled me to what is most important – the gift of presence, of simply being with another, and giving ourselves to the person in front of us with whole and undivided attention.

There is a story of venerable Pierre Toussaint recounted in Ellen Tarry’s biography of him:

One day he went to call on a lady to whom death had just dealt a heavy blow. Someone asked him afterward, “What did you say to the poor woman?”  “Nothing,” Toussaint answered simply.  “I could only take her hand and weep with her, and then I went away.  There was nothing to be said.”  Only God, he knew, could speak at such a time.

So often we want to be do-ers and fixers.  We want to know the right thing to say or do for every situation.  We may forget the awesome power of our presence and of simply being with another, of letting someone know they are not alone through the ups and downs of life.  After a challenging time in her life, a woman reflected, “There was nothing Sister could actually do to make things any easier, but I always felt she was with me in what I was going through, and that made all the difference; it made it possible for me to move forward with confidence.”

We can give this gift of presence not only to those whom the Lord brings into our lives, but even more importantly to Our Lord Himself. I always find it striking and even startling to see images of the crucifixion that show the Cross raised not high in the air above the onlookers, but only a foot or two off the ground. In those images, the Blessed Mother and St. John are almost eye-to-eye with Jesus. It is a vivid reminder of how close they were to Christ as He suffered and died on the Cross and how powerless they felt to save Him. Although they could not take Him down from the Cross, what they could give, they gave. They were simply determined to stay with Him to the end and to be a silent loving presence to Jesus in His final hours.

In this season of Lent may we like the Blessed Mother and St. John give the gift of our presence to the Lord in prayer.  Then, filled with His Presence and love, may we be intentionally present to those He places in our lives – children, spouses, co-workers, friends, the cashier at the grocery store. Through these simple connections, may hearts be changed and filled with love and strength, to persevere on the road so that one day we may all be together in Heaven.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for the gift of Your Presence in our lives, especially in the Holy Eucharist.  We pray that we may be mindful that You are with us at each moment of the day and for the grace to be faithful to daily prayer.  As we spend time with You, may You fill our hearts with love for others so that we may bring Your Presence to them through the witness of our lives lived close to You.  Amen.