Give gifts worthy of a King

Karna Swanson

Be honest, your heart sinks a little at the approach of Christmas. The First Sunday of Advent draws near, and what looms large before us are long to-do lists, multiple trips to crowded shopping centers, and the worry about how we are going to pay for it all.

American consumerism is out of control, and it’s taking a toll on Christmas.

There may be a part of us that wishes that the gift-giving part of Christmas would just go away, so we could envelop ourselves in a shroud of silence and focus all our energies on the true meaning of Christmas—the impenetrable and profound mystery of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

While there is merit in wishing we could do away with all the hoopla surrounding Christmas, we must remember that there is a spiritual, and might I add, potentially evangelical side of gift giving that we shouldn’t overlook.

Therese Mueller, a mid-century author on Catholic culture in the home, had this sage advice on how to approach gift-giving: “As far as Christmas gifts are concerned, let us emphasize their true meaning, now so generally forgotten: overpowered by God’s generosity in giving his only-begotten Son as the Redeemer of mankind, Christians feel urged to imitate in a limited manner God’s great love and liberality by spreading happiness among relatives and friends through gifts.”

But, she added, “only if our gifts—small though they be—are borne along on a wave of true charity will they be worthy to lie beside the crib, which represents the real gift, the gift of all gifts, without which we should still be sitting in darkness and in the slavery of Sin.”

In a controversial footnote, she also suggests to parents that they stop telling “white lies” to their children about Santa Claus, and begin to tell them that it is “the Christ Child who presents our family with the abundance of grace and happiness and peace.” But, I digress.

There are lot of good ways Catholics can take back the practice of gift-giving, which is currently rooted in a frenzied consumerism, and turn it into a real effort to give of ourselves in a way that emulates Our Father in heaven.

First, before we can recapture a more spiritual motivation for gift giving, we have to let it sink into our bones that everything we have comes first from Our Heavenly Father. Being grateful for what we have received, and aware that all we have has been given to us freely by our God, whom we can never repay, puts our little acts of gift-giving into perspective.

Second, don’t forget the poor. If we only give to those who can return the favor, or even better, give us even bigger gifts than we gave, then we haven’t learned well the lessons Jesus tried to teach us during his short sojourn with us here on earth.

When making out your Christmas list, put the poor and needy at the top. Give them first billing, and you will have put a new focus on your gift-giving.

Third, give your time and energy. Make Christmas a time to reach out to those you haven’t had the opportunity to see in a long time. Create opportunities to get together with friends and family and just spend time with others.

Fourth, evangelize. There are so many opportunities to remind friends and family of God’s love during Christmas! For example, give Christmas greetings. “Have a Snoopy Christmas” is a fun sentiment, but are you missing an opportunity to evangelize by not reminding people of the true meaning of Christmas?

Fifth, give gifts. Gifts are genuine gestures of love, esteem and friendship. And be generous. Just make sure your gifts, and the motivations behind them, are “worthy to lie beside the crib” of the King of Kings.

COMING UP: On Divine Mercy Sunday faithful urged to trust in Christ’s mercy, pass it on

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On Divine Mercy Sunday faithful urged to trust in Christ’s mercy, pass it on

Maronite church’s event offers sacramental graces, highlights plight of persecuted Christians

Roxanne King

On April 23, Divine Mercy Sunday, hundreds of people turned out at St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church for a celebration that offered the chance to earn a plenary indulgence and to be inspired by religious leaders to share Christ’s mercy with others.
The day included the opening and closing of a Holy Door at the Lakewood church, and a Divine Liturgy (Mass) celebrated by Maronite Bishop Elias Zaidan and concelebrated by St. Rafka pastor Maronite Father Andre Mahanna, who founded and heads an apostolate to aid persecuted Christians. Archbishop Samuel Aquila delivered a message on Divine Mercy.

Maronite Father Andre Mahanna addresses the congregation during Eucharistic benediction on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 23 at St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church in Lakewood. CREDIT: Roxanne King

To help people earn the indulgence (remission of punishment due for sin), the sacrament of reconciliation, Eucharistic adoration, and veneration of the Divine Mercy image were available. The iconic image with the words “Jesus, I trust in you,” shows the risen Christ giving a blessing while rays of light (red for Eucharist, white for baptism and reconciliation) stream from his breast.
Other events included a brunch with ecumenical leaders that featured multicultural entertainment, including Jewish, Indian and Samoan dancing and music, and an inter-Christian dialogue that focused on helping persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

“The 2016 Open Doors report on persecution found that 215 million Christians experienced hostilities of some form over the past year,” Archbishop Aquila told the congregation. “Sadly, one only needs to look to the recent Palm Sunday bombings in Egypt that were claimed by ISIS to see the flesh and blood reality of the suffering Church: 49 dead and 78 injured.

“In the face of our afflictions, how should we respond as Christians?” he asked. “By immersing ourselves in Divine Mercy and carrying it to others.”
Christ’s passion, death and resurrection show that submission to and trust in God’s will and goodness yields eternal victory, the archbishop said.
“Divine Mercy,” he added, “… can transform our country and the world.”
In the year 2000 St. John Paul II designated the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday and canonized Sister Faustina Kowalska. The Polish nun had died in 1938 and is called the Apostle of God’s Mercy as it was through her writings the message and devotion to Jesus as “The Divine Mercy” came to be known.
“At the heart of Jesus’ message to St. Faustina is the necessity of complete trust in Jesus’ mercy for all who seek it,” Archbishop Aquila said, adding that Christ told Faustina: “’The graces of my mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is—trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive.’”
St. John Paul II, the archbishop said, noted that Jesus’ message of mercy isn’t new, “’but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time.’
“The work of building a culture of mercy, of building the Kingdom of God, is needed everywhere,” the archbishop said. “It must be done on the streets of Denver, in the highways and byways of every corner of our country; it must be done in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. And most importantly, it must be done in your homes and in your families.”
The inter-Christian dialogue, which in addition to the bishops and Father Mahanna, included representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a Syriac Orthodox deacon, and evangelical laymen who work to educate and empower inner-city youths and families, discussed past and current collaborative works of charity and mercy to help victimized Christians in the Middle East and urban needy in the United States.

Inter-Christian dialogue participants: from left, Syriac Orthodox Deacon Elias Naoum, Maronite Bishop Elias Zaidan, Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Latter-Day Saint lay leader J. Craig McIlroy, Maronite Father Andre Mahanna CREDIT: Roxanne King

The Maronite Church is Eastern Catholic and in communion with the pope. It traces its roots to the Apostles’ visits to Antioch where followers of Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The Maronite patriarch (senior religious leader under the pope) is in Lebanon.
“As you know, the Middle East is where Christianity started. Unfortunately, waves and waves and waves of persecution over the centuries has pushed Christians out,” Bishop Zaidan told the group. “I hope the little tiny remnant still there will be respected. We hope their voice will become your voices … to make sure this country will do whatever it can to preserve Christianity in the Middle East.”
Father Mahanna wrapped up the discussion with a call to action.
“What are we trying to achieve?” he asked. “A network of common causes to enable (us all) to defend life from conception to natural death.”
Echoing Archbishop Aquila’s comments on building a culture of mercy, he added, “It will be a new movement—the new wind to flow all over.”