Those who are poor, brokenhearted, imprisoned and all who are held captive should rejoice, we heard on Gaudete Sunday. When Jesus stood up and proclaimed the same message in the synagogue, he declared, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” In the person of Christ, the connection between joy, works of mercy and generosity becomes clear.
Last week I wrote about how feasts remind us that reaching heaven is what really matters in life and they connect us with the love of God, both in the past and in the present. This week I want to reflect on how experiencing the joy of God’s love should give birth to generosity and acts of mercy.
I am sure that family members come to mind as the first people you will give gifts to or be merciful towards, but as we prepare to celebrate the gift of salvation, I ask you to remember the poor and downtrodden, those who are on the margins of society.
In the 4th century, a young man named Nicholas lost his parents to one of the many plagues sweeping through Europe. After mourning his parents’ death, he committed himself to seeking God’s will for his life and doing acts of charity with the substantial inheritance he received.
St. Nicholas, or in Dutch, Santa Claus, heard that a father who used to be well-off was now poor and could not provide a dowry for his three daughters. Without dowries, the girls were ignored by suitors and their father was considering sending his daughters to a brothel as a way to solve the family’s financial crisis.
Remembering Jesus’ words about giving alms in secret and not seeking the praise of men, St. Nicholas resolved to stop the father from following through on his sinful plan. The saint’s biographer, Michael the Archimandrite, tells us that during the night, Nicholas wrapped the necessary number of gold coins in a cloth and tossed it through a window of the poor man’s house.
“As day broke, the man got up from bed, found the bundle of money in the middle of the house and, with tears that he could not hold back, taken with joy, amazed and stunned, gave thanks to God,” the biographer recounted.
St. Nicholas returned two more times with money for the other daughters. The father stayed up for nights, hoping to discover who was helping his family. On the final occasion, he saw St. Nicholas and realized he knew him. The poor man is said to have declared, “If it were not for your kindness, aroused by our common Lord Jesus Christ, I would have long since been consigned to a life of perdition and shame.”
As we heard in the readings from this past Sunday, Jesus’ birth brings glad tidings to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, liberty to captives and release to prisoners (cf. Is. 61: 1-2). Christ brings us the good news of salvation, and our joy at this gift should lead us to generously give of ourselves to those in need, just as St. Nicholas did.
There are many ways you can show your joy and gratitude for the birth of Christ. Plan acts of generosity, but do it quietly and not for praise; do it for love. Following St. Nicholas’ example, you could volunteer to help the poor through Catholic Charities, visit someone who is lonely, or extend forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.
If you are thinking about how to be financially generous, I ask that you consider Divine Mercy Supportive Care. This Catholic hospice ministry is carrying out a corporal work of mercy by caring for the sick and dying, showing the mercy of Christ to those who are at the end of their life. The need for their services has proven to be great. In fact, the physicians who work for Divine Mercy tell me that the demand has far exceeded both their expectations and their resources. Hence, they are in great need of resources at the end of this year to help them carry out works of mercy.
I pray that you will continue using this Advent to prepare a place for the birth of Christ in your heart and home. May we be willing to generously welcome him, even if he comes to us as someone who is poor, sick, dying or in need of friendship.