December 13, 2022
“Man is the only creature on Earth which God willed for itself, [and he] cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” — Pope St. John Paul II (Gaudium et Spes 24)
It’s the time of year when we tend to focus more on giving. There is something inherently good about wanting to give a gift to another. The potential problem lies in how we may get caught up in the consumerism of Christmas. Ads to sell us the “perfect gift” for our friends, loved ones, and children are ubiquitous. If we buy into the importance of only tangible giving of gifts it can often rob us of our joy, time, and money. Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that a “gift-of-self” has inestimable value and is the means through which we truly “find” ourselves— God’s plan for our identity, self-knowledge, and purposeful living the image of the Trinity—in this type of giving.
What does a “gift-of-self” look like during the busy Advent season? The busier we get, the more vital it becomes to spend increased time with God. As you begin each morning, read, and reflect on the daily scriptures. Taking time to pray the daily readings in the morning, or read a reflection based on the scriptures can unquestionably set the tone for the day. Making time for daily mass can also keep our hearts attuned to the preparation for the arrival of Christ. When we feel spiritually fed, it is easier to tend to the needs of others.
Charitable giving opportunities also seem to abound at this time of year. It is easy to become overwhelmed at the number of requests we receive for financial contributions. As much as we desire to give to all charities to help as many causes and people as possible, this can be daunting as we are of course limited to some degree in our own resources. As these opportunities to give come up, bring them to God in quiet prayer. “Lord thank you for this opportunity, please help me to discern how you want me to share my monetary gifts.” Then allow some time for Him to answer. It may be yes, no, or a “not at this time” response. This gives us an answer to share with others based on prayer. As Pope St. John Paul II once stated, “The worst prison would be a closed heart.” It is helpful to approach giving prospects with an open heart. This can lead to new experiences of tithing and service.
Another way to approach giving of time, treasure and/or talent in service is to reflect on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. These can act as a wonderful pathway to serve others and draw us closer to Christ in preparation for Christmas.
The Corporal Works of Mercy inspire us to give of ourselves in a tangible way. Here are some suggestions of how to incorporate these into the season of Advent.
- Give food and drink to the hungry/thirsty: Go through your pantry and donate many of your dried and canned food items. Double up on essentials each time you grocery shop and give one away to a food pantry.
- Clothe the naked: This is a wonderful time to “purge” your closets prior to perhaps receiving new clothing as gifts. Donate clothes your children have outgrown to larger families with younger kids.
- Shelter the homeless: Offer a meal to those who may not have family in town for Christmas. Offer aid to a homeless shelter in your area.
- Visit the sick or imprisoned: It may be challenging to visit in person, but we can offer prayers for those of whom are separated from loved ones.
- Bury the dead: Take flowers to the gravesite of a loved one and offer prayers for all of the holy souls in Purgatory.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy allow us to deepen our relationship with God as we serve Him by praying for and serving His people, our neighbors.
- Instructing the Ignorant: Reach out to someone and invite them to an Advent concert, church event, or mass with your family.
- Counsel the Doubtful: This time of year can be even more stressful and sorrowful for many. Bring a positive message of Jesus’ love to those who need to hear it.
- Admonish the Sinner: Encourage your family to attend confession together prior to Christmas.
- Bear Wrongs Patiently: Respond to issues, frustrations, and inconveniences cheerfully without judgement or anger.
- Forgive Offenses: Extend God’s love to someone who has wronged you without expecting anything in return.
- Comfort the Sorrowful: Spend time with someone who is grieving a loss. Offer prayers and even fast for them and their loved one.
- Pray for the Living and the Dead: Offer our time in mass, adoration, and prayer for the intentions on our hearts, for those who have gone before us, and for all who have asked for prayers.
“The human body … contains ‘from the beginning’…the power to express love … that love in which the human person becomes a gift — and through this gift — fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence” — Pope St. John Paul II (TOB 15:1).
May Jesus draw you closer to Him and bless and protect you and your family during this Advent!
Dena Reany, Curriculum Consultant-Southwest
for Ruah Woods Institute