Friday, December 16, 2005

Be Presence Where There Is Absence

I had occasion a few posts ago (that’s how time is measured in the blogosphere) to quote from a book by Jean Vanier, and I have occasion to quote from the same book today. He has a rather specialized vocation—caring for the severely disabled, both mentally and physically—but perhaps for that very reason his proclamation of the Gospel is all the more clear and pure. His work with these “little ones” enables him to see and be the face of Christ in the world. The following is what he understands, in general terms, as the mission of the Christian in the world.

“This is what Jesus is leading up to: his disciples will continue his mission and his works. But what is his mission? It is to give life, eternal life, and to reveal the face and heart of God to people. It is to be a presence of God in the world where there is an absence of God. God’s works are not big miracles, which some heroic disciples may be called to do, but all those works of simple kindness and goodness which give people life and lead them to trust in themselves and in God…

“Something will have to happen to change and transform them, so that they will be able to do the works of Jesus, and even greater ones! Jesus tells them how this will be: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you and he will be in you’ (John 14:15-17). That is the answer: the disciples are going to receive another Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, who will live in them and transform them. They will no longer be caught up in a lot of very human queries and needs flowing from their fears, culture and education; they will be separated from the emptiness of the world and brought into the place of God. Jesus reveals to them that they are not first of all going to do things, but God is going to live in them. Later we will see that because the Spirit is in them, they will do the works of God.” (emphasis added)

The task of manifesting the face of God in the world, which is the continuation of Jesus’ mission, is to be God’s presence where there is a perceived absence. It reminds me of the prayer of St Francis: put love where there is hatred, light where there is darkness, joy where there is sadness, etc. Remember that story about the man who complained to God about the various needs and sufferings he experienced all around him, and he asked God why He didn’t do anything about it. God answered: “I did do something about it. I made you.”

In order to be God’s presence where this is needed, it is not enough simply to will it, or to go about trying to do good things solely with our own ingenuity or effort. We must be filled with God if we are to manifest God. No one gives what he doesn’t have. This is the primary thing: being filled with the Spirit of truth and love. Once God lives in us, then we can do the works of God; then we can be Presence where there is absence.

The urgent needs of the world may seem to push us to get busy right away, to throw ourselves willy-nilly into damage control, putting our fingers in the holes of the dyke. But it is a sterile activism that does not first draw wisdom, peace, and strength from the Source, in whose hand alone lies the healing, renewal, and salvation of mankind. Pray, worship, be silent, receive the Holy Eucharist, discover the life of God in yourself—and then begin to communicate it to others. When Christ is the Presence in your own interior emptiness, then you can fill the emptiness around you with that same Presence.

So, be presence where there is absence. People need to see the face of Jesus in this world, in which satan rears his ugly head all too often, sometimes thinly disguised, but easily unmasked by the Spirit of Truth. Abide in Christ and He will abide in you. Fill one absence at a time—and start renewing the face of the earth.