A little over 40 years ago, my mom taught me a lesson that I will never forget: The giver of a gift is always more important than the gift itself. I believe that it was either my 5th or 6th birthday. All my friends showed up with their gifts and their parents. The cake was there as well as the games. It was perfect except for the fact that one of my friends was convinced that his gift would be my favorite. As I remember it, he wouldn’t stop. Over and over, he told me that I was going to love his gift. Before the time for opening came, I had already decided that I would hate the gift and that I would let him and everyone in the room know that I hated it.
I do not remember what his gift was, but I do remember what happened after I opened it. I told him that I didn’t like it. My mother, I’m sure utterly ashamed, calmly tried to correct me, asking me to reconsider how I responded. I rejected her promptings and continued with my rudeness. After exhausting my mother’s patience and with my friend now crying uncontrollably, my mother announced in an extremely calm voice that the party was over. After thanking them for their kindness and generosity, she asked all in attendance to please forgive me, to take some cake, and to leave ….. with their presents. That’s right. On that birthday, I received no gifts – at least no gifts that a 5 year old would usually expect to receive.
Please understand my mother was the kindest, most generous and forgiving person I ever have known, but on that day she gave me a gift that remains ingrained in me. One that I actually still remember. Thinking back, I’ve forgotten most of the gifts that I ever received on most of my birthdays. This one, the one I learned that day, I still remember. Mom taught me that persons are more important than things, givers are more precious than gifts. During this time of gift giving when we remember the greatest Gift ever given, we should remind ourselves (I know I need to remind myself) of this simple yet profound lesson that even a 5 year old can understand (and a 49 year old can still remember). All too frequently gifts become more appreciated than the givers.
As Catholics, we have been given many gifts – our Mother and our Lady – the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus’ Bride and our Mother – the Church, the Sacraments, Sacred Scripture, the Magisterium, truth and grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, a participation in God’s Divine Life, our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, etc.. The list really is without end. Frequently, though, I forget the fact that all these gifts come from the Father of lights, our Father “who art in heaven”.
This reality brings me back to the lesson mother taught me so many years ago. It also reminds me of the call we, as parents, have received from God Himself – to participate fully, consciously, and actively in the mystery of parenthood. The mystery of parenthood begins with a sacramental understanding of marriage, of parenthood, of motherhood, of fatherhood. We are called to be visible signs of the invisible God to our children, to this world. It ends with living that understanding out in concrete situations in our lives.
As a father, I have been called to be a sign of the Father in heaven, the Giver of all good gifts. Today, I stand convicted. Have I been that sign? Through me, can my children catch even a glimpse of the Father of lights? As a child of God, do I remember that my wife, my children, my parents and grandparents, my job, my home, my everything are all gifts and, to varying degrees, precious? Even more, do I remember that God is their Giver? Do I act as if I truly remember and believe what my mother taught me so many years ago about gifts and their givers? All the gifts are indeed precious, but the Giver of those gifts is even more precious. Do I love Him “with all of my heart, with all my soul, with all mind, and with all strength” (Mark 12:30)? I believe I have discovered my New Year’s Resolution. I have some serious work to do. Please pray for me. I’ll be praying for you.