Homily – Sacred Heart of Jesus
by Gail Jacobsen
June 23, 2017
Today’s morning prayer from “Give Us This Day” prayer book begins: “O Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.” My first thought was: How can I preach and praise when I have often felt called to silence, to compassionate listening? Do actions rather than words frequently proclaim more than I realize? I know in my heart the act of presence can be powerful and unforgettable. Yet being present to someone can seem awkward, maybe because American society is task-driven. How can I just sit there and not “do” or “fix” something? How could just my presence be enough?
I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you may have had similar thoughts. Probably all of you have stories of sitting with someone very ill or a dying Sister, friend or relative; many of you have been active in hospice work. Sometimes it is so hard to sit and be still, isn’t it?
One story of mine--I treasure--happened many years ago when I was a hospital social worker. A nurse approached me and asked if I would visit a man just diagnosed with a terminal condition. The prognosis was one month. I met with this gentleman and at one point asked him: “Is there any one thing I could do for you?” And he said: “Yes, just hold my hand until I fall asleep.” And so I did. Though this happened over 20 years ago, I’ve never forgotten the powerful message: One’s presence does matter, and often more so than words.
Another time I visited a resident in a nursing home. The nurses had stated that in the last two weeks, Mary had declined significantly. She was hunched over, sitting at a table, just staring at the floor. I made some small talk with no response. But then I asked to take her hand, which she allowed. I told her that the nurses mentioned she had 3 children and they visited every day. No response. Then I said to her: “You must have been a very special mother to have raised 3 children who care so much and visit daily.” With that, she suddenly squeezed my hand. Nothing further was said. But I know, if only that moment, presence and, in this case, a few sincere words, mattered.
Currently, I’m seeing Gloria in a nursing home who’s receiving hospice care. Although her dementia has progressed, recently she had a moment of powerful insight. She suddenly asked me: “Why do you do what you do?” I told her “because I care about you and want to be your friend.” I’ve pondered that question so often since then. But now Gloria has declined significantly, is bone-thin, and can no longer carry on a conversation. She nods off but continues to squeeze my hand. It’s still hard for me to be silent, to just sit and hold her hand—wishing instead I could make things better for her. But it’s only presence and holding her frail hand, that’s all I can offer her now.
My dog, Rosie, is blind. She has taught me over and over how much presence means. She can’t run after balls or do the many things sighted dogs can do. But she never withholds her presence, her unconditional love. And how much Rosie’s presence means to me, Don, my husband, and my two granddaughters, Sarah and Amy, who are here today.
It seems that often we are called to preach through compassionate listening—like Dominic. And on this special feast day, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, what could be a better opportunity to cherish the gift of compassionate hearts—something we’ve all been given. One of the intercessions today is “Help us to extend your compassion to the forgotten places in our world.” Forgotten places need our presence, and you’ve all discovered there are many forgotten places. We need to “presence preach” in our own Calcuttas. More noise and constant chatter aren't needed, rather the power of compassionate listening, our presence. May we all have the courage, no matter how awkward or difficult, to share our gift of presence. May our hearts be filled with kindness so we may always value preaching through presence—opportunities for us to be bestowers of God’s loving heart, God’s loving care.