On the Power of Being Present

Doug McManaman
Copyright © 2006
Reproduced with Permission

There are certain things that can bring unnecessary anxiety to the life of a believer. One is to forget that God has no use for us. After all, He created us not because He needs us, but because He loves us. And although He has no need of us, He uses us nonetheless.

But there are no limits to what He can accomplish through us, especially without our being aware of it. This is clear in His Incarnation, for God achieved the redemption of the entire human race through the apparent failure of the cross. In the flesh, He spent ninety seven percent of his life without uttering a word in public. He was simply present in our midst without the world having any awareness of the fact. And it was by dying that he destroyed our death.

Looking at life from a larger perspective, we should realize that what we achieve in the end will be relatively little, even in our greatest efforts. But God effects the salvation of the human race by suffering and dying, or from a purely human perspective, by failing. And so if we allow ourselves to be used by God, that is, if we place ourselves at His disposal, then even our failures can be made to achieve good that goes well beyond what we are capable of on our own strenuous efforts.

As a teacher, I understand the importance of good curriculum, especially when it comes to teaching the Catholic Faith. But I also know that more fundamental than "what" a teacher teaches is the kind of person the teacher makes himself to be to his students. His most important role is to be a certain kind of person in their midst. This is fundamentally true for every apostolate.

In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes: "God uses us to make the knowledge about Christ spread everywhere like a sweet fragrance. For we are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost...for those who are being saved, it is a fragrance that brings life" (2 Co 2, 14-16).

All we have to do is be that sweet smelling incense and others will be drawn to the Lord by that very scent. And just as what we eat affects the kind of fragrance that emanates from our bodies, similarly it is by feeding on the Eucharist that we become that sweet smelling incense offered by Christ to God.

This, I believe, is the central message in the life of Blessed Charles de Foucauld (b. 1859). After his ordination in 1901 he left for the Sahara, eventually settling at Tamanrasset with the sole intention of becoming a friend of the desert nomads by entering into their culture. His only task was to be a presence among these Muslims, to simply be the presence of Christ in their midst, without any explicit preaching. In 1909, he wrote: "My apostolate should be one of goodness. When people see me they should say: 'If this man is good, his religion must be good.'"

And yet to Charles, his life, at times, seemed like a failure. He wrote:

You know my wretchedness. You know how much I need you to pray for me. Over 21 years ago you brought me back to Jesus. What a harvest I should have by now, for myself and for others. And instead of that, I have wretchedness and bankruptcy for myself, and not the least good for others. A tree can be told by its fruits, and mine show what I am.

Although we will often feel that without a great deal of action followed by clear signs of progress, our lives are fruitless, to actually believe that is to think in merely human terms, and not according to the law of the cross. To be fruitful, the fundamental level of our active lives must be a ministry of presence, like the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist found in the tabernacles of every Catholic Church.