The very first time I particpated in a ministry of presence was in college on a Spring Break mission trip to Honduras. We spent time with families in the remote villages along the coast. These villages were so hard to access that you had to walk miles through wooded terrain and cross large rivers by way of these wire ropes. Some villages had teir best access by way of a small motorboat that would pick you up and drop you off on the beach.
Their access to the sacraments was limited to once or twice a year when a priest came to the village. One of those times was when the mission teams from Franciscan University came with a priest to provide mass, Baptisms, First Communions, and whatever other sacraments were needed.
I had the privilege of going on that mission during my last year of college. Our large mission team was made up mostly of FUS students andour larger team was broken up into smaller teams to minister in different ways in the villages of Honduras. My team consisted of Fr. Stan, 3 students, and a young adult translator from Honduras.
In many ways, our mission experience was unique because we had the one and only priest. We were able to see him give mass in these quaint churches built by the villagers. These churches were nicer than most of their homes. Yet, it remained boarded up when no priest was available for mass. I witnessed Baptisms and First Communions. It was beautiful. But I felt sad realizing these devout souls would only have access to the sacraments a few times a year.
I could talk all day about that mission trip but something that really struck me how different this mission experience was from any other mission I had been on in the past. You see, I had been on a few mission trips to Mexico with my Parish back home. But those mission trips were building missions. Every summer we would spend a week building 11′ x22′ two-room houses for a family in need. The houses were tiny, but far exceeded what most of these families had before.
On those mission trips, the mission was clear: build a house. It was the kind of mission where we had something to “DO.”
But the mission to Honduras was different. There wasn’t any “doing,” really. It was mostly a mission of “being.” Our mission was to be there, to engage with the families, to share stories, and to play with the kids. Sure, we had a priest with us, so we would be providing the sacraments, but that wasn’t really my doing, that was Padre Stan’s role.
In many ways, it was hard for me because there wasn’t really anything for me to “do.” I felt useless. But when I expressed this struggle with my leaders, they shared with me that this mission, for my team, was primarily a “ministry of presence.” We weren’t going to do anything for these families. We really couldn’t alleviate their poverty, or provide anything for them that they didn’t have. Apart from the Sacraments, we weren’t bringing anything but ourselves.
But what we were doing was making the Church present to them. We were letting them know that the church had not forgotten them. We were showing them that we cared enough to spend time with them, to love them, to be with them. Our mission was a ministry of presence to these villages who had very little access to the Church.
How motherhood is a ministry of presence
This past Lent, I’ve chosen to limit my time on social media. I’ve chosen to make myself as present as possible to my vocation of wife and mother. This past week, one of my children was having a really hard time. Sometimes, I struggle to be fully present to my children when they are having a hard time because I have to put my to-do list on hold while I hold a crying child.
In the back of my mind, I’m thinking about how irrational this disappointment is, or how frustrated I feel that they are fighting AGAIN. But as I held my crying child, the words “It’s a ministry of presence” came to mind. The words hit me hard. I suddenly remembered my mission to Honduras. The same consolation I felt knowing that my mission was to be present returned again.
I just kept repeating the words “It’s a ministry of presence, it’s a ministry of presence” as I held him.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of a household and homeschooling kids and forget the reality of my vocation. Checking boxes off the to do list isn’t my vocation. Sometimes, my kids need me in ways that force me to slow down. That is hard for me, especially when the dishes and laundry pile up. As I repeated those words, “it’s a ministry of presence” in my heart, like a mantra over the moment, I remembered that what my son needed more than anything, was for me to be present to him in his struggle.
So I surrendered my to-do list for the moment and allowed myself to be fully present.
Ways to be more present
I thought I’d share some quick questions you can use to evaluate how present you are being to your kids throughout the day
- Have I looked into my children’s eyes today?
- Did I affirm my children in any way today: a genuine smile, a firm hug, an “I love you” or “I love being with you” will work
- Is my phone out of sight for at least part of the day?
- Can you name something good you’ve noticed about each child today? Tell them privately about it if you get a chance.
- Have I spent time focusing on my child when they spoke to me?
- Did I spend one on one time with each child today?