Prayer is communication and our communications have many forms. I would like to extend that thought into ministry and service in the Church.
I recall a remark by Fr. Gerald O’ Collins SJ in one of his books: He was speaking with an elderly Jesuit priest about the apostolate of the Jesuit Order in the Church in their lifetimes. The elderly Jesuit said ruefully that, in his youth the Church was committed to action, the 1920s and 1930s were the era of “Catholic Action”. This period was noted for enormous missionary activity; for great confidence and zeal.
By the 1950s and 1960s the word “action” was increasingly giving way to “testimony” or “witness”. St. Pope Paul VI famously said that the world of the 1960s and 1970s listened more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if people did listen to teachers it was because they were also witnessing with their lives.
Finally, the older priest remarked, the Church settled for “presence”! In the elderly priest’s view, the Church had followed a downward trajectory from action, to witnessing, to mere presence.
However, as Fr. O’ Collins pointed out, sometimes presence is more comforting and helpful than either words or actions. There are times in our lives when we don’t want anything done for us or explained to us, there are times in our lives when there is nothing anyone can do for us, but the presence of another person at those times can be of inestimable value.
I recall a friar who was chaplain in a busy hospital in Ireland a few years ago. On his rounds he came across a seriously ill man being attended to by the medical staff. The man was in much distress, but unable to speak. After the friar offered the man a simple blessing the sick man reached out and took his hand.
The friar stood by the bed for a long time, saying nothing, just holding the man’s hand, until he fell asleep.
Some months later the sick man returned to the hospital looking for the friar. The man wasn’t a Catholic but he expressed to the friar how much the friar’s presence had meant to him in his fear and vulnerability; it assured him beyond all words.
During this pandemic we are compelled to keep our distance, from one another, but our forms of presence can be a powerful reassurance.
Wishing you Peace and all good!
Friar Liam, OFM.