At this time of year, a lot of us tend to get a little crazy thinking about Christmas gifts. I know there are those who finished their shopping months ago, and I have to admit, if that’s you, you amaze me. On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who puts off the shopping until the last possible second and then pays for one day shipping from Amazon, praying that everything just works out on time, know that I am right there with you.
Despite my predictable procrastination this holiday season, I’ve been reflecting recently on the concept of gifts, and I can’t help but think back to a confirmation retreat we put on about a month ago. I was sitting in a small group with seven or eight eighth graders, and we were discussing the gifts that God gives to us. I began by asking the kids to tell me what was one gift that they felt God had given them. We went around the table and I heard many true, but predictable responses. One girl said she was gifted with her ability to sing, another her academics, another boy his soccer skills, and so on. The pattern was interrupted, however, by a smaller boy sitting two seats to my left. He paused, thinking for a second…and then said, “God gave me the gift of being able to pray for people.”
What? I couldn’t believe how simple but insightful his response was. Somehow this thirteen-year-old retreatant intuited a reality that we wise adults so often forget. We have been given many gifts: our intelligence, our physical abilities, our talents, our material goods. All of these may be used to bring glory to God as we share them with one another. But these, I’ve realized, can all fade. We will inevitably grow older. Our physical abilities will wane. Our minds may lose some of their former sharpness. We may lose some of the prosperity we once had. But this gift, the gift of being able to love and support one another through our prayers will not be taken away. Even as we move into the next life, this alone will persist and allow us to serve and connect with one another through time and space. Yet how many of us overlook or underuse this beautiful gift? I found myself agreeing with him. This truly is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, and perhaps I had forgotten that.
Feeling humbled and blessed by this insight, I proceeded to talk about how generous God is in His gift giving. We moved on. “If you could ask God for one gift, what would it be?” Once again we went around the table. When it got to that same boy, he thought for a second and then said, “I would ask for the gift of being able to put God first in my life.” I was excited by the sound of that, but I wasn’t sure that I understood, so I asked him to explain. He went on to tell me that he plays on a select soccer team, and they often have games on the weekend. His parents, he explained, will often take him to his soccer games rather than bringing the family to mass. I understood. This thirteen year old boy wanted what we all want deep down. He wanted a relationship with God. He wanted to love God and to experience His love. He may or may not have fully understood, but I think he intuited that this love is most perfectly manifested through the celebration of the mass where we commune with God and one another. Worshiping together the God who is love. How often do we take for granted the marvelous gift that is the mass? We get caught up in our busy schedules, or we complain about the music or the preaching. But those things are beside the point. God, in the mass, gives us Himself. We, in turn, are able to return that self-gift by participating fully in the celebration. Just to be able to be with Him, even for an hour…what a gift.
This Christmas season, as we reflect upon the gifts that we are to give and receive, let us take a moment to thank God for the gifts that we have already received; the gift of prayer, the gift of intercession, and the gift of the mass. We are blessed with the ability, should we so choose, to put God first in our lives. May we not take these gifts for granted, but rather foster them and allow them to become our joy and our hope.
Sweet Mother Mary, gracious distributor of God’s wondrous gifts, please pray for us now and always. Amen.