The present of presence
On a beautiful Sunday evening in Advent, a group of confirmation students strolled with lit candles to a nearby nursing home. Once there, they sang favorite Christmas carols while the residents, wheelchairs and walkers in tow, joined in. Meanwhile, parents of the students were arranging Christmas cookies on platters to be served. Instead, the home’s administrator suggested each student accompany an elderly man or woman through the line and then sit with him or her. The students agreed, and as I surveyed the room my heart swelled as I witnessed joy on the faces of both the students and the elderly. The older men and women were animated as they shared stories while the students listened intently and reverently. I was awestruck as I realized the lesson unfolding before me.
When we returned to the parish, I lay aside my notes and went straight to the heart of the evening. “You did a wonderful job of caroling, but you did so much more! You made all the difference as you sat with the residents and listened to their stories. Though you did not take away their aches and pains, you lightened their burdens through your presence. This is the meaning of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus cares so deeply he is present to us each day. He accompanies us through each moment of joy and sorrow, including all our heartache, failure, betrayal, sin and loneliness. He alleviates our suffering by being with us. With Jesus, we are never alone. We are never forgotten. We are never abandoned. In Jesus, God is forever present to us.
In this first chapter of Matthew, God promises a Savior, Emmanuel, God with us. As Christians, we are called, like Jesus, to be with others. In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis emphasizes the ministry of presence as the “’art of accompaniment” (#169). In our relationships, we often try to fix problems or to buy things when the greatest gift is to accompany others through our presence.
A popular toy brings momentary happiness, but playing together creates lifelong memories. A knickknack may be fashionable for a season, but sharing a cup of coffee strengthens a friendship for a lifetime. A jeweled bracelet may glitter for years, but holding hands is timeless.
Our children’s deepest desire is presence. Our greatest gift is bringing them into the presence of Emmanuel, God with us. As parents and grandparents, we name grace—God’s constant presence—in the domestic church by reminding our children of Jesus’ presence whether they’re praying, playing with friends, studying for a test or sleeping in bed. Jesus draws close to them, whether they’re happy, lonely, hurt, scared or sick. We name grace by spending extra moments, instead of dollars, to be present to our loved ones.
With each Christmas carol sung, may we remember Emmanuel is present in our singing and our crying. In Jesus, God walks with us, listens to us and comes to us in the real presence of the Eucharist. In the concluding chapter of Matthew, we are told Jesus remains with us, present to us, “until the end of the age” (Matt: 28:20). Now, that’s good news!
How have you experienced Emmanuel, God with us?
This Christmas, how will you give the present of presence?
A blessed Christmas to you and yours!
Naming Grace in the Domestic Church reflects on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding parents in their vital task as “first preachers” of the Good News in the home.