Many faith traditions celebrate a holiday season which includes the giving of gifts. For the Christian tradition that season is, of course, Christmas. The word Christmas is from the old English meaning “Christ’s Mass” and is a time for Christians and others world-wide to remember and celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, Jesus – the greatest gift to have ever been given.
Western Christians prepare for Christmas with the observance of the season of Advent. The word advent can be defined as the coming or arrival of something or someone extremely important and awaited. The season of Advent is a time to remember the wonderful gift of the Christ Child and to prepare to celebrate His birth. More than 2,000 years ago the Wise Men followed a star to visit the infant Jesus, bringing precious gifts. We continue the tradition of gift giving today. But all too often we are so caught up in the commercialization of the season that we easily forget why and who we are celebrating.
Each year as the season of Christmas approaches people frantically shop for those perfects gifts; mailboxes are filled with solicitations and holiday cards; wallets and bank accounts see more activity than any other time; and for some, food flows freely (while sadly, many are still hungry). You may be asking how can we be expected to give more?
Perhaps the question should be what more can I give? More is not a finite number. To me, the more is a very spiritual (note, I did not say religious) concept.
Not just more wrapped gifts; not just more fruit cake or cookies; not just more donations of dollars. While all these things are nice, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes appreciated, sometimes needed, and sometimes expected, the more I am thinking of is a gift of yourself — your time; your service; your experience; your thoughts. To give your time visiting a neighbor, a family member, or a stranger who is unable to get out and physically participate in this joyous season is to give more. To find a way to help someone venture out into the world for even a short time is to give more. To join a group of carolers sharing their gift of music is to give more. To give extra hours working at a soup kitchen, a food bank, or helping sort donations at a church is to give more. To listen to someone who just needs a human ear, heart or shoulder is to give more. And prayer is to give more; but prayer also enables us to receive more. Pope Francis has said (I’m paraphrasing here) that to truly know Jesus we must be in dialogue with Him. We must pray. To pray for others, to pray for world peace, or to offer an extra rosary for someone who needs that so much more than a tangible present, is truly a gift. When you give of yourself, the gift list is endless and no wrapping is required.
We also need to remember to give more to ourselves. The gifts of Ignatian heritage include reflection, discernment, solidarity and kinship, service rooted in justice, and mission. These are gifts that can and must be shared and experienced. Give these gifts to yourself by allowing time for reflection and discernment. Ask yourself questions, such as: Have I given thanks for my gifts – my life, my family, my freedom, my option to celebrate my faith? Do I recognize the gifts that I have? How do I choose the path I will follow? Recognize the opportunity to be a person for others. People are revealed through their story; you never know what another’s story is until take the time to listen; don’t miss the opportunity. Listening is a two-way gift. Encourage yourself to be of service and to be served. A gift is often as much for the giver as for the receiver; nothing can compare to the feeling of being needed or appreciated. These are the true gifts “that keep on giving.” As we come into the season of Advent take the opportunity to give more by giving more of yourself.
Izola is a staff member at Xavier University, working as the assistant to the associate provost for academic affairs and dean of the graduate school. She has participated in alternative breaks as a learning partner.