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“The Last Supper”, Jaume Huguet, c. 1470

It’s been a while since my last post, before Thanksgiving, in fact.  I hope you had a very merry and blessed Christmas and a peaceful and pleasant New Year.

Christmas 2020 was supposed to be the year that my wife and I would get together with all four daughters and their families, but, with COVID, that didn’t happen.  We had some disappointment but we understood the circumstances and declared, “No Foul”, and no hard feelings.  We were very thankful that everyone was healthy even though we couldn’t all be together. 

We did, however, travel to Lake Charles, Louisiana to spend Christmas with our daughter and her family who live there, and another daughter traveled to meet us from her home in Memphis.  We spent the week together enjoying mild weather, good food, and good conversation.  And, although we love our daughters dearly, the highlight of the visit was spending Christmas with our two grandsons, ages 4, and 23 months.   

It is always a special time on Christmas morning when the little ones open their gifts.  Paper, ribbons, and bows fly everywhere, and as soon as one gift is opened they are on to the next one.  I love to see the excitement and the smiles of magical wonder on the children’s faces. 

But, this Christmas, I found myself observing the morning mayhem a little differently.  As much as I noticed the grandchildren’s amazement at receiving their gifts, I witnessed the joy on my daughters’ and son-in-law’s faces as they watched the little ones open their gifts, gifts that they gave out of love.  It brought back beautiful memories of the joy I experienced of giving gifts to my own daughters when they were children.  That was always the best part of Christmas for me and I loved seeing my daughters experience that same joy.  The old adage, “It’s better to give than it is to receive”, came to mind, and I had to nod in agreement.

This two week old memory came to mind yesterday right after receiving Communion at Mass.  As I walked back to my pew I thought about all those who have denied themselves the Blessed Sacrament because of their social distancing fears, or who have, through laissez-faire attitudes, grown comfortable with the habit of not attending Mass.  Back at my pew, kneeling and offering a prayer of thanksgiving for having received Christ in the Holy Eucharist, I prayed for those folks by again making my own offering to Him as I do every morning and at every Mass during the presentation of the gifts:  “Heavenly Father, I offer You my prayer, work, joy and suffering, and I unite it to Your sacrifice made present in the Mass and I offer it for the conversion of souls.  Amen.”  

I wondered if they truly know and miss this gift of love that Christ so desires to give us if we just come to Him?  I mean, isn’t the reason we go to Mass to receive Him?

And then that’s when Christmas came to mind.  I had it wrong.  I had it backwards.  We go to Mass to give ourselves as a gift to God, to unite our hearts to the heart of Jesus through His sacrifice, to love Him for loving us and sacrificing His life for us.  We give ourselves freely to please God, to bring Him joy, to put a smile on His face.  And, in return, he gives Himself, and the infinite love of a happy Father which accompanies it, to us.

It’s the joy of giving that we miss when we don’t go to Mass.  It’s the missed opportunity to know that we have pleased God, and to show our gratitude for the experience.  And, since we know the happiness it brings when we give a loving gift to another, we fail to relate to the happiness we are denying God when He can’t give Himself to us. 

Thinking about that adage, “It’s better to give than it is to receive”, I decided there needs to be a corollary to it:  “The joy of giving makes the joy of receiving so much better!”  

I know there are certain folks for whom it may still be too risky to go to church to worship.  But, friends, if at all possible, find a way to return to Mass.  Rediscover the feeling of giving yourself to the Father so that He can give Himself to you with unimaginable love.  Find your happiness by making Him happy.

“Lord Jesus, I love You.  And, like giving gifts to my children and grandchildren whom I love dearly, I know it pleases You and brings You joy when I give myself as a gift to You.  Thank You for Your immense love and returning it to me in the Holy Eucharist.  Amen.”

(The Joy of Gift Giving was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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