Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Gift-giving and the Gospel

Father John J. Lombardi

Second Sunday of Advent

"He--the Angel--went in and said to her (Mary), 'Rejoice, so highly favored! The Lord is with you.'"

Last week while meeting with some priest-friends we spoke of the challenge of keeping Advent as a preparation time before Christmas. Today, based on mass culture (versus Mass appeal), it seems that premature celebration dominates the spirit of Advent expectation.

When we priests began talking about practical responses to Mammon's materialism, Fr. Maillet related a poignant story of how his father, each Christmastime, would bring all the children to select a gift for a poor person, wrap it, and then personally deliver it to a needy child. Now that's Christmas--giving and receiving.

One of the priests shared the penetrating insight that today's culture and secularists emphasize-implicitly or explicitly-- smaller families, and that this might, in fact, be an attack on the nature of giving--and charity--itself. But, oppositely, when Catholic and Christian Moms and Dads sacrifice to spread their love and affection to more children (as their situations genuinely allow), then they are stretched into giving more. However, when people or programs denigrate the gift of children and families, then charity itself can be thwarted. When families--however small or large--truly go out of themselves to love and sacrifice, then charity and God Himself are manifested. For, as the Bible says: "God is love," and, "if we love one another God remains in us and His love is brought to perfection is us (I Jn 4:8, 12) . Thus, when we give and love we are participating with God as Gift-giver, thereby becoming who He wishes us to be (see 2 Pt. 1:4).

Another priest, Fr Collins, a dog-lover and artist, suggested that gift-giving, especially at Christmastime, is sometimes a faint or veiled way to imitate God in giving us the Gift of Christ. Our "job," he said, is to remind people of this connection and the "Reason for the Season". An "image and likeness" of this is, of course, Santa Claus, who is a type of secular icon of St. Nicholas (whose feast day was Dec. 6).

Some of the "story of Santa Claus" reminds us of Saint Nicholas-and God. For instance, you may want to prod your children into asking, doesn't the richness and busyness of "Santa's plentiful workshop of toys and goodwill" somehow represent God's boundless Love, and His celestial paradise called Heaven? Don't the "elves," and all the toy- and gift-making, streamlined into efficiency, hint at God's and the saints' overflowing and heroic love --constantly outgoing to others? (I Cor. 4:11: "to this hour we (disciples) go hungry…When ridiculed we bless…we endure…"). What about Santa, persevering thru snowstorms and squeezing meticulously down the chimney to carry out charity? Can this remind us all of the need for fortitude in the virtues, charity and Faith? ("We endure everything so as not to place an obstacle to Christ"-I Cor. 9:12). And when Santa disappears after all the good he has done, doesn't this remind you of the saints--and Jesus Himself--counseling and practicing selflessness? (see Mt. 6: 1-4).

As we priests later gathered in Church for holy hour, our leader, Fr Farmer, a great pro-life priest, and ex-lawyer (he likes lawyer jokes), prior to benediction, prayed so movingly and appropriately: "Help us, in preparing for Christmas, to prepare for Christ."… Amen. We all need the reminder!...

The Gospel

If you were going to prepare a spiritual manger for the Infant Child Jesus to be born--in your soul--wouldn't you clean out the old straw (sins) and put in new, fresh straw (virtues, Love and Faith)?

In the Gospel today (Mk. 1) -St John the Baptist calls us all to make straight what is crooked. All of us can get crooked and mangled-in our thoughts, words, and deeds. But this great Season of Advent is a time to prepare a highway for the Lord (See Isaiah ch 40, the first Reading from today's Liturgy); we are counseled to remove every blemish from our lives (see the first Pope's writing, I Pt. 4:1 ff).

Let's face it: crooked, sinful, mistaken ideas lead to crooked people. When a person embraces the crooked idea of temporal riches bringing lasting happiness-by stealing, for instance--he not only breaks a commandment, he also can become crooked-a thief. When someone acts continuously upon the crooked and seductive idea of ecstasy, in taking drugs which promise a false "transcendence," (ecstasy literally means 'to stand out of "), then he not only destroys brain cells and God-given reasoning power, but also becomes crooked--a drug addict… As the Old Testament (and the prophetic provocation of Isaiah, ch. 40) constantly reminds us, Israel became crooked by at least two destructive ways: forgetting God-His saving grace-and worshipping false idols.

The Israelites thought that, after being saved from Egyptian enslavement, being rescued in desert wanderings and impoverishment, after receiving constant graces thru battles with the Babylonians and Assyrians, God had nonetheless forgotten them. Sound familiar?: Israel, really, is us-- in our sufferings and trials of life-we often are at least tempted to forget God and His love for us. And so we may question, doubt or block God's mercy and love; we may thereby lead lives of lukewarmness or rebellion…Crooked ideas lead to crooked people…

Perhaps you've forgotten--or gotten the crooked idea--that the Sabbath-Sunday rest is now open to unnecessarily shop for others, and thereby perpetuate commercialism and work, even before Christmas: after all you're doing a good deed and your super busy. Wait a minute. The Third Commandment frees us of this: As Pope John Paul reminds in his writing, "The Day of the Lord," we are first called to worship God at Sunday Mass, and also read the Bible, do charitable deeds, and imitate God Himself by relaxing, not promote consumerism and forgetfulness of God and His Sabbath rest.

One family I know makes special attempts to fix today's crooked temptations by spending special time with each other, turning off the TV. and slowing down…It's hard but there's hardly an alternative: How about you?...We say we want peace and stress-free lives, but are we really willing and persevering to follow the prophets' call to reform and radical change-even until it hurts?

In First Peter, ch... 4, the Pope is counseling the Christians to battle sensualism in awaiting the Lord's Second Coming. Two current, pervasively crooked ideas, surrounding this, include:

  1. Doubting the Last Judgment--this is a theme of Advent-Jesus' return in glory to judge all the living and dead. Some people justify sloth and lukewarmness by their doubting this doctrine.
  2. Luxurious living-this mantra includes: "I deserve and need all the comforts (drink, food, sexual pleasure, home life) I can get and come my way, and none of these will alter my spiritual life." St Peter counsels against this crooked idea: "so as not to spend what remains of one's life in the flesh on human desires, but on the will of God" (I Pt. 4:1). How can you mend this crookedness by refraining from excessive eating and drinking before Christmas and thereby make full preparation for the celebration?... Advent is God's gift and the prophetic call to reform, change, re-orient to straighten out what is crooked and harmful to God, ourselves, our neighbors. The prophets provoke us into new life and receiving the Presence of God with fresh, prepared hearts…

Lastly, consider and challenge the crooked idea of "busybodyism". This means constantly moving as in a materialistic race, and never praying and slowing down-never stopping--to receive God's grace. We Catholics are not socialistic activists; we are supposed to be, as St. Ignatius says, "contemplatives in action". St John the Baptist, just like Jesus, fasted and prayed in the desert for a reason-to show us we need to receive God first in order to give Him and His gifts to others. Just like the Virgin Mary and all saints, we must pray in all things-(I Th 5:17); enduringly (Lk. 18:1); we must trust in Him to help us ("fiat," Lk.. 1:46), and contemplate deeply, within, His gift and grace to us (Lk. 2:52)…

Fix the crookedness of your life by praying, today, for at least ten minutes, and then increasing to a half-hour and hour. One young lady gave up television and started reading the Bible for her upcoming Confirmation. After being confirmed she continued the holy practice…How about you?…Crooked ideas lead to crooked lives and people…Holy ideals lead to saints.

Briefly Noted

Advent-Christmas Offering to the Grotto: We very much appreciate it if you consider giving a sacrificial gift to the Grotto at this giving time of year. We are currently collecting funds for: our NEW ORGAN (will be delivered in Feb.); repairs of FLAGSTONE near Grotto candles; new PLANTINGS of trees and bushes in he Springtime…We are very thankful for your ongoing support-financial and otherwise-of Our Lady's Grotto.

Gift Ideas: This Advent-Christmas you may want to think of spiritualizing your gifts. 1. Giving a Spiritual Bouquet: this means offering up a Mass, a Rosary, a sacrifice (a fast or costly loving action ) for the person's intentions and writing it nicely in a greeting or Christmas card ; 2.a Bible, or a spiritual book: give this to a loved one instead of secularist material…

Article of the Week: See Glass Chapel or ask for copy of on Co-Habitation, its pervasiveness, un-Christianness and deleterious effects on the family.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi