by Father Mark Goldasich
It was a memorable invitation indeed: Diana and Dan request your presents at their wedding.
Now, this was either a very honest couple or one that struggled with homophones, words that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning and often in spelling. This invitation faux pas was the Aug. 11 entry in a page-a-day calendar, Church Chuckles, produced by New Seasons.
Actually, that homophone — “presents” and “presence” — contains a happy truth: Spending time with another person, particularly with a friend, is truly a gift.
A touching example is found in this story:
Jim and Phillip did everything together when they were kids. They went to high school and college together, and, after college, joined the Marines. They were both sent to Germany, where they fought side by side.
During one fierce battle, the soldiers were given the command to retreat. As the men ran back, Jim noticed that Phillip hadn’t returned with the others. He begged his commanding officer to let him go after his friend, but the officer denied the request, saying it would be suicide to go back.
However, Jim disregarded the order and went after Phillip. Heart pounding, he ran into the gunfire, calling out for his friend. A short time later, his platoon saw him hobbling across the field carrying a limp body in his arms.
The commanding officer dressed down Jim for his outrageous risk. “Your friend is dead,” he shouted. “There was nothing you could do.”
“No, sir,” replied Jim. “I got there just in time. Before Phillip died, he said, ‘I knew you would come.’” (Adapted from “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof.)
In spiritual terms, this is called the “ministry of accompaniment.” The word “accompany” is related to “companion,” whose original meaning was “one who eats of the same bread.” Remember something called the Last Supper? It was no accident that the memorial that Jesus left us involved bread. Food and fellowship go hand in hand.
This issue of The Leaven features a couple of stories on this ministry of accompaniment. And yes, food is involved!
The center spread on pages 8 and 9 highlights a heartfelt story about Rosemary Henson and the women of St. Monica’s Guild at St. Matthew Parish in Topeka. Friendships disrupted by a debilitating disease were rekindled and deepened by a home-cooked meal that keeps going and going and going.
A different sort of accompaniment — with hot lunches — was practiced by the Fraternity of the Poor of Jesus Christ in late July. Here, some 150 of the homeless population of both Kansas Cities were brought to an event that included everything from haircuts and showers to bingo and fingernail painting. This story on page 16 is yet another example of how presence and presents are so closely linked.
Jesus understood so well our human need to know that we’re not alone. The Gospel of Matthew notes that Jesus is called “Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” In other words, our God is always present, walking with us on the journey of life.
We, in turn, make God present when we assure others that they are never alone. In practicing the ministry of accompaniment, we show that no one is excluded from God’s family — especially not the ill, the poor, the homeless, the immigrant, the elderly, the lonely or the marginalized.
And the marvelous thing about accompaniment is that you need no special skills or training for it. All that’s required is a big heart.
Why not make this year’s Labor Day weekend extra special by including a labor of love — some ministry of accompaniment — in your plans. This can be as simple as making a plate of cookies for a neighbor whose name you don’t know to visiting a relative who is homebound or in a nursing facility. It might take the form of youngsters spending time teaching computer or cellphone skills to the older generation. It could involve handing out a baggie filled with wet wipes, clean socks and a food gift certificate to a person begging at a stoplight.
No matter how it’s done or when or for how long, assuring another person that they’re not alone in this life — sharing our loving presence with them — is surely one of the most precious presents we’ll ever give.