Good (Christian) Gift-Giving

More from the annals of Christmas break thoughtfulness...

This topic is something we all face, and as Christians in the Western world, something we undoubtedly face with a little skepticism at times. At least I do. What am I talking about? The giving of Christmas gifts (or any holiday-related gifts, for that matter). 'What does it mean to give a gift to another person at Christmastime? How should I be disposed to others in a spirit of generosity that is authentically Catholic?'

Maybe I'm over-philosophizing—it wouldn't be the first time. But I think there is something worthwhile about critically assessing even the most basic attitudes we maintain (and, moreover, are expected to maintain) in our Church and our society. Generosity—or perhaps most generally, charity—is the fundamental disposition of the active Christian. It is the very thing that defines our conviction: God-made-man gave himself entirely so that we might be free to give ourselves entirely back to the Father. It is the purpose of the Incarnation. For that reason, it is something strongly encouraged on the Feast of the Incarnation—Christmas.

But, in order to imitate Christ's self-gift most fully, we are also expected to understand why it is that we are called to give. The response (like most things Catholic) is very simple, yet truly profound: we are called to give ourselves for the sake of love, and nothing else. As such, our gift-giving disposition should be one of genuine love, and nothing less. By giving a gift, we are not only symbolically recalling the gift of Christ as man for our salvation, but are actively and truly called to love another person by our generosity and disposition of service.

Obviously, lots of things cloud our focus here: 'Perhaps I am giving because I feel compelled to by the "spirit of Christmas." If so, is my gift worthless? Shouldn't I be giving out of pure love and not coerced expectation? But if I don't give gifts now, with imperfect motives, what will prompt me to give gifts later, when my motives are "more pure"? Isn't generosity itself, even if impurely motivated, the only means to a disposition toward charity that is most authentic and real?'

Certainly, hardly any gift is given out of absolute generosity—even the most faithful Christians have some degree of affection for the rewarding feeling that accompanies a well-received gift. This is understandable, and I think anyone would be hard-pressed to admit otherwise. But just because we as humans are oriented as such does not mean that authentic charity is a hopeless case. Just because we look forward to making someone happy (for whatever reason) does not mean that we ought not strive for purity in our dispositions. In fact—and this is the very 'Catholic' part of things—it is only by giving imperfectly that we will ever learn to give perfectly. In other words, learning to give from the genuine surrender of the heart is not something learned by theoretical prowess, but by practical trial and error.

This is something I often forget. (And I offer my apologies to those whom it affects.)

Giving, whether it be at Christmastime, birthdays, or any day of the year, ought never to be something overly calculated. Nor should it be something done out of mere coercion. Rather, in order to be truly Christian, it has to fall somewhere in between. Both extremes can teach us something or other about what it really means to give a gift—theory teaches us the importance of motivation, and expectation teaches us the importance of painful persistence. But in the end, giving a gift is an imperfect thing. It is an imperfect thing that seeks the perfection of the one true Gift, the gift of Jesus for the salvation of the world.

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    # by Nikki Benz - April 1, 2013 at 12:05 PM

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