On the first Thursday of Lent, I had the blessing of meeting Pope Francis with the board of the Global Catholic Climate Movement. We were there to share our gratitude for the encyclical Laudato Si’ and commitment to bringing it to life.
I hadn’t anticipated speaking, assuming our board chair would be our spokesperson. I realized this was not the case after Pope Francis looked thoughtfully to the next person after the board chair spoke. This continued until all ten of us had the chance to introduce ourselves and share some thoughts.
I was struck by how intently Pope Francis listened, visibly present as each person spoke. Given his many responsibilities, and the fact that he was fighting a cold (we later learned), he still responded to each person with interest, and often humor. It was moving; he gave to each of us the gift of radical presence.
In today’s fast-paced world, being fully present to another is an act that is simple, yet often rare. How easily we slip into our own agenda, not willing to give time or emotional space to another. It reminds me of the simple, yet humble act of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in today’s Gospel.
In witnessing Pope Francis’ radical presence, I felt as if the words “as I have done for you, you should also do” were being extended to me. For if even someone like Pope Francis can take an hour to be thoughtfully present with ten strangers, couldn’t I also?
As we enter these holiest of days, how might we offer this kind of radical presence? It might mean to the people around us, to situations of deep suffering around the globe, to creation, or to Jesus himself as we follow his death and resurrection. Perhaps in releasing our hold on our agendas, we might discover the kind of radical presence Jesus is already offering us, in each moment.