By CAROLE BRESLIN
Gifts, gifts, and more gifts — that is the essence of the secular “Holiday” season. Christmas gifts — now that is an entirely different story. All things in our lives should be considered from a Catholic perspective. What is the ultimate gift that God has given to us? What is the only gift that we can give to God? What is a gift? What is it that makes a gift worthwhile? Even when it is past the time of giving gifts for Christmas Day, it is not past the time for considering the gifts we may yet give on a continuing basis.
A gift involves an “alienation or giving up of the first owner’s right, and acceptance or the beginning of the new owner’s right” (Modern Catholic Dictionary, p. 229, Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ). Essentially, we surrender something to another willingly when we give a gift. What makes the gift worthwhile is that a gift is generally given freely without expecting anything in return. It is given as an act of love toward the purpose of bringing joy to the one receiving the gift. Sometimes the gift is small or inexpensive, but worth much spiritually.
It is easy to buy something and give it to another. It is much more difficult for us to give of ourselves, to give sacrificially rather than financially. When the giver buys something that he or she knows the recipient will enjoy, rather than giving something that he himself would enjoy, the results will be more rewarding.
When someone gives the gift and relinquishes ownership, he no longer has rights and therefore cannot control what is done with the gift. Sometimes this may be painful as when the gift is not appreciated. If we consider that God so loved the world, that He has given us His only-begotten Son, would it not offend Him who has given so freely if we ignore that which was given? At Christmas, we received the Baby Jesus. What greater gift is there?
Receiving a gift also deserves consideration. One should be thankful more for the thought than for the gift. The thought behind a worthwhile gift would be love. One receiving the gift would then be thankful and show the appreciation for the thought behind the gift, even if it is not something which one had hoped to receive.
God’s Gift to Man
St. John the Evangelist wrote one of the most widely known verses in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John 3:16). Jesus gave up His rights of ownership. He humbled His divinity to become man that we may be with Him in Heaven. “Everyone else who was ever born into the world, came into it to live; our Lord came into it to die” (Calvary and the Mass, p. 4, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen). Our Lord came into the world as a vulnerable baby, lovable in His littleness. He came to us on Christmas to die on the cross for our sins that we may live in eternity.
Witnessing such an act of love, the heavens burst into song. Even the angels come to earth to sing of such passion: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill” (Luke 2:14).
God has given His only Son, Jesus. By this act, He has shown us the way to joy, the way to peace. He did not do this that He may be glorified so much as He did it so man may be lifted up and know the joy of giving glory to God. The lowly shepherds were brought to the crib by the angels. Their humility had earned them spiritual buoyancy. These men who sought to do the will of God were blessed with peace of mind and peace of soul. They had nothing to give but themselves by paying homage to the King of Kings.
While the gift of Christmas is Christ, there is another gift we also would do well to recall. God gave to each of us the gift of life both temporal and eternal. He has given us everything we have and are. Our family and friends, our colleagues and possessions have all been given to us by God. To fully appreciate these gifts, we must be sure to reflect on all creatures and the way we should make use of them.
Man’s Gift To God
After the shepherds paid their homage to Jesus, the three wise men came to worship the Son of Mary. “He will now call wisdom to the crib, as He has but lately called simplicity” (Bethlehem, Fr. Frederick William Faber, p. 184). The men who studied their prophecies and followed the star from the East came searching for the King of Kings, “Men whose science led them to God” (Faber, p. 183). These men bearing gifts of frankincense in honor of the divine, gold for the king, and myrrh to the man who would be crucified would go away contented, knowing they had done God’s will. Once again, doing God’s will brought joy and peace to “men of goodwill.”
What do we bring to the crib of Jesus? Are we men of goodwill? There are many ways of bringing gifts to the Baby Jesus. We can give to the poor, the lonely, and the hungry. We can comfort the sorrowful or instruct the ignorant. In short we can practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy as a special gift to Jesus. “And answering the king will say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me’” (Matt. 25:40).
In other words, we can give gifts of material need or we can give money to charity which is all well and good. However, are we not really just giving back to God that which He has given to us? Can He not give and the next day, take it away?
So what is it that we can truly give to God that He cannot, or better, will not take from us? The only thing we can give to God that He cannot give to Himself is our own free will. This point is worth hours of careful reflection, especially during this holy season of Christmas.
During one of his lectures to the laity, Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, speaking of charitable evangelization, said, “Not even God will force the human will.” I remember well the look on his face. He was so very serious and then he repeated, “Not even God will force the human will.” We must give freely.
The more we sacrifice, the more God will bless us. The Rules of Charity in St. Luke’s Gospel tell us: “Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they pour into your lap” (Luke 6:38). God cannot be outdone in generosity. The little we give to Him, He will repay a hundredfold. When we respond promptly and willingly to the urgings of the Holy Spirit to serve Christ in the poor and downtrodden, He will repay us not only in the next life but in this life as well. There is joy in sacrifice. There is contentment in temperance.
As we sacrifice and become more detached from our possessions, God gives us a spiritual serenity that cannot be described. Our lives become more peaceful, our faith deepens, our hope becomes more firm and, above all, our love becomes greater. The secret to giving back to God is giving our will to Him do with as He wishes. As St. Ignatius wrote in his prayer commonly referred to as the Suscipe, “Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold you have given me; I give it all back to you and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.”
The more we give to Christ, the more it costs us in terms of giving up our treasures, talent, or time for His work, the more grace we will receive. The more grace we receive, the more we will be able to give, and thus the more we will receive, overflowing into eternity.
Help us, O Lord, in the coming year, to practice routinely the gift of giving back to you by serving others. Volunteering to care for the elderly, feeding the poor, instructing the ignorant, and comforting the discouraged can be practices we do every week or month. God will reward you. “I surrender it all to you, O Lord.” Amen.
May you have a Blessed Christmas and a Holy New Year, “Rich enough.”