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Time and Presence


Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori

Some gifts are irreplaceable and more valuable than anything money can buy

Archbishop William E. Lori

WELL, IT’S THAT TIME of year again. The shopping days left until Christmas are dwindling fast. The list of people on our gift list grows longer every year even as creativity in gift-giving diminishes. Whether shopping online or in a store, our efforts to buy just the right gift so easily revert to the “same old, same old” pattern. What, then, can we give another person that is more valuable than a necktie or a scarf or a half-dozen handkerchiefs? What is even more valuable than some extravagant gift we might give to a loved one if only we had the means? Let me suggest two things: time and presence.

Psalm 90 tells us, “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong … they pass quickly, and we are gone” (v. 10). More starkly, the Letter of James tells us that we “are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears” (4:14). Jesus himself asks, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Mt 6:27).

We can give another person money knowing that we are likely to earn more money tomorrow, but the present moment comes only once and never again. The time we give to another is an irreplaceable gift.

Spending time with a loved one or a person who is grieving or sick is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give at Christmas. For example, on my first Christmas as archbishop of Baltimore, I visited a dying priest in St. Agnes Hospital. It was a gift that brought us close to Jesus, the newborn Savior.

Yes, the pace of life seems to be more and more frenetic nowadays. But are we too busy to spend time with someone in need? If so, we are too busy for our own good.

Time is not the whole story. It’s how we use our time that counts. Showing up and giving of our time is meaningful only if we are fully present to those we visit. Suppose we decide to visit an elderly parent or to be with our families on Christmas. But while we’re with them, we’re constantly checking the time or checking our phones until we are free. If we’re counting the minutes, are we not withholding our presence?

To give the gift of presence, we need to block out other concerns, worries and business, and focus instead on the person or persons at hand.

Isn’t this true of our Knights of Columbus programs and activities? When we’re distributing Coats for Kids and a child tries on a brand-new coat, we should be thinking of no one else but that child, maybe even saying a little prayer for him or her. When we’re helping a family cope with a disaster, we shouldn’t be thinking of the mail piling up on our desk, but only about the family that needs help.

Pope Francis often tells us to accompany one another on the bumpy road of life. He means that we need to focus not on ourselves, but on the other. This is what the gift of presence means.

It turns out that the gifts of time and presence are, together, the one thing we can give the newborn Savior. Have you ever peered into the manger and wondered what to give the One who entered the world to give us everlasting life? I am haunted by a phrase in the liturgy: “you have no need of our praise….”

What can we give the Lord that he does not already have? He wants our time and our presence: time for daily prayer, for Mass, for the rosary. He also wants us to be fully present to him when we pray. And when we are present to the Lord, we will also be present when we serve him in the poor, the sick and the vulnerable. For Time + Presence = Love. May you have a most blessed Christmas!