As we enter into the Christmas season and contemplate the infant Christ lying in the makeshift manger beneath our trees, I am constantly reminded of the opening words of John's Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” He dwelt among us. St. Francis of Assisi marveled at this incredible reality, that the Divine would deign to dwell among us. He saw through human eyes, spoke with a unique voice and left footprints in the sand where his feet passed.
By dwelling among us, almighty God, through Jesus Christ, made himself fully present to the human condition. And this dwelling among us, this power of presence, brought about radical conversions, profound healings and a new and lasting hope.
St. Francis of Assisi also saw the incredible power of presence. A story is told that one day Francis invited some of the friars to join him in preaching in a certain town. After walking through the length of the town without saying a word, one of the friars turned to Francis and asked, “When are we going to preach?” Francis replied simply, “We just did.”
For Francis, as for Jesus Christ, to be fully present to another is an incredible gift and witness. In an age in which our attention is constantly divided by the smart phone, the plasma screen television, the unending barrage of news and the cutthroat pace of a consumer culture, a person's full presence and attention is a rare gift.
A few months ago, while serving Denver's homeless population in our food truck ministry, we were approached by an elderly man covered in white sores all about his hands and face. He stood in the long line for food with everyone else, but when he came to the serving window he asked: “Could one of the brothers pray with me?”
Several friars joined hands with the man and prayed. As we were praying, tears began to stream from his eyes. Afterwards, he told us his story. He was very sick and was addicted to drugs. He had no hope left in his life.
As he was talking, he pulled a long knife from beneath his jacket and handed it to one of the friars. “I want you to keep this,” he said. “This was the knife I was going to use to kill myself today. But when I saw you out here this morning, I saw that some people still care. What hope this gave me!”
That's the power of presence. As we enter fully into the Christmas season, let's strive to be fully present to those we hold nearest and dearest. Let's seek to give the same gift of presence that Jesus gives fully to us every day of our lives.
We wish you and your family a very merry and holy Christmas!