By Sister Karen Zielinski, OSF
Franciscan spirituality is relational and our presence to each other a Gospel value.
You gotta be there.
It was a typical Saturday in Sylvania, Ohio. I had two major community events going on at the same time: a planning meeting, and an Associate / Sister weekend retreat. I attended the planning meeting, and when we broke for lunch, rushed to the retreat and had lunch with some of our Associates. I went back to my meeting, and attended the final retreat conferences.
Being present at an event is important.
A Franciscan Friar once commented, “If a visitor came to your 89-acre campus and asked directions to a building, a Franciscan way of responding to the question is for the person to just accompany the visitor to the spot. That is a relational, Franciscan way of living.”
Just like the Gospel message, simple but hard to live out, our presence to others is fundamental, but often difficult to do. So many times a friend might present a lecture, a recital, or a fund-raiser she/he is involved in and we are asked for our support. Usually that means attendance at an event. We are often tired after a day of ministry, or not feeling too well. Weather might be cold or rainy and we just want to put our feet up and stay home.
But we go to the talk or lecture. And we are glad we did once we get there.
Prayer is the ultimate gift of God’s presence. We have to be there with God, to receive that presence.
Francis’ presence to people guides me. “Francis once took a certain sick brother, who he knew had a longing for grapes, into the vineyard and sitting down under the vine, he first ate to give the other courage to eat.” (The Second Life of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano, Ch. CXXXIII, No. 176). Francis sat down with the brother and ate. He did not just send the brother the grapes or send a representative.
It is a true gift of self when we sign up to help at a parish festival, attend a choir concert or commit to attending anything which is not necessarily work or ministry related. Presence is a gift of attention, and opening of the mind to be receptive to the other person. In society today, people often feel relieved to simply write a check, make a donation or find a reason not to attend. Presence is a gift of time, that precious part of our daily lives that we guard for things which are important. There is nothing like being at an event, present in all our humanity to the other person. Being there is important.
Being there for our brothers and sisters is parallel to same type of energy and spiritual “high” when we attend a live concert, a sports event, or go out to dinner. With so much television and insulation in our homes, presence takes a good deal of energy. It is energy that makes us move out of our comfort zone and reach out to others.
Being there is not restricted to those who are Franciscans, but to any who have a Franciscan heart.
A couple of years ago, a friend gave me tickets for a Detroit Tigers’ baseball game. I went to the stadium with three other sisters. We got to our seats, and since I pulled my back out the week before, I simply stayed in the handicapped section and advised my three sisters who had never been to Comerica Park, the stadium, to go down to the closer seats. As I watched the game in the top row, someone called to me.
“You all alone? Where are your girlfriends?”
The African American man had one leg, and wore a green jogging suit with the words “Turkey Man” on the back of his jacket. I had seen him twenty minutes earlier in the clubhouse. He was the team’s caterer for that game, and had just unloaded pounds of freshly roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and rolls.
“I told them to go down to watch the game. My back is on the mend,” I said to Turkey Man.
Turkey Man came over to me and asked where I was from. I told him we were Franciscan sisters form Ohio and wanted to see a game.
“You should not be alone! I will bring you a coke.”
So Turkey Man got me a coke, and shared a Franciscan presence with me. One of the sisters came up later and sat with me, but I was touched by Turkey Man.
Much is said today about the art of being present. Francis and Clare were highly skilled at this. Clare had a profound sense of God’s abiding presence. She never felt abandoned by God and felt his presence at all times. Being there is actually quite simple, and attractive. Presence to our brothers and sisters flows from our presence to God.
You gotta be there!