The following is a transcript of an episode of the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 50: Simple Gifts
Hello friends. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and a good start to your Advent season. For many of us, as soon as the last piece of pumpkin pie is put away, our minds shift toward to shopping lists, supply chains, gift-giving, and ugh, Black Friday. Starting around now, we’ll hear the commonly asked question: “So, are you ready for Christmas?”, and we will know that that question is all about the stuff we buy rather than the quiet preparation opportunity that Advent presents to us, but today’s episode will hopefully give us a new lens on giving – the who, what, where, when, and why we give as people of faith. Also, we’ll talk about how we can make the process of gift giving this year a bit less scattered and a bit more life-giving for us and for those we’re giving to.
The roots of our philosophy of giving usually comes from what we experienced as kids. If you were born and raised Catholic, you might have seen your family give charitably out of their time and treasure at this time of year, or maybe that wasn’t really a part of your family tradition. Maybe your family prioritized seeing abundant gifts under the tree. Maybe Christmas gift-giving was small and practical in your home. Maybe there was obvious financial stress, or stress of other varieties that can readily come to the surface at this time of year.
My own mother grew up with very little and she loved giving to her children and grandchildren at Christmas. When I was a young Mom, I saw the overwhelm and commercialism of the season and tried to keep things a bit smaller, but both my mother and I prioritized modeling charitable giving and service to our kids, and we’ll see what the next generations will do. How we give can have a bit of a pendulum effect, I know. Each year, each of us has an opportunity to critically look at why, how, and to whom we give, and to discern the healthiest way to approach our giving. “Because that’s how we always did it” is not reason for an adult to do much of anything and isn’t it freeing to know that each of us has the agency to choose to give well.
In Scripture, we see lots of examples of abundant giving that are linked with trust in God. There was the story of the poor widow who gave two copper coins which was all she had to live on, and Jesus commended her as the one who had given the most. We know the story of the boy who offered his whole lunch, a couple of fish and loaves, which Jesus multiplied to feed thousands. In the Book of Matthew, we hear Jesus telling His disciples to give privately and humbly – not to announce their generosity with ‘trumpets’, and not to let our left hands know what our right hands are doing when we do give. In Luke, we hear about the reciprocity of Divine giving as Jesus says,
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Gosh, that sounds a bit like karma, doesn’t it? Interesting how some religious teachings overlap, isn’t it, but that’s another episode. Anyway, it’s clear that the Scriptural view on giving is, in a word, generosity, but deciding where, what and to whom to give this time of year can feel a bit overwhelming. I love the story of St. Bridget’s cross. As the story goes, Bridget was called to the side of a dying Irish Chieftain and was asked to give him comfort, so she sat with him, looked down at her feet and there she found rushes, or dried grasses, on the dirt floor. Bridget began weaving them into the shape of a cross and she used that cross to tell the story of Jesus, to help the Chieftain to know that he was seen, loved, and provided for by God in his dying hours. It is said that the Chieftain accepted Jesus a few hours before his death and that he died at peace. I love that story for a few reasons.
First: Bridget didn’t plan out her giving, but she was alert to opportunity. She simply went where she was called; openly, generously, and spontaneously.
Second: She didn’t rush out to get anything but instead gave out of her time, her talent (in this case, storytelling), the things she had learned, and she used whatever she found at hand to give her gift.
Third: The physical gift of the simple cross that Bridget made that day was a vessel – a means to an end to communicate the real gift she gave that day – the truth that the Chieftain was known, seen, and loved by God.
Friends, we can do this, too. When it comes to giving, we can all get stuck in material stuff, but if we go where we’re called, give simply of our talent, time and what we have at hand, and if we give with the intention of communicating love, I think we’ll be on the right track toward giving well in a way that is also life-giving to us.
There are lots of Moms, and a few Dads too, that take on the long task list of Christmas, and by the time the day arrives, they find themselves too depleted to enjoy it. Maybe that sounds familiar to you. There was a hilarious skit on Saturday Night Live last year which I’ll link for you in the show notes, which perfectly captures that reality. Moms – for real, you should watch this. Well, this year, a healthy view of giving can include giving to ourselves. Many of us read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to our kids when they were small. I did, and I loved it, but as I look back at the tree character giving first its fruit, then its branches, then its trunk to a boy who appreciated none of it, well, it kind of makes me shake my head at that old story. Honoring ourselves as beloved children of God, giving ourselves time and patience, asking for what we need, and giving to others from a place of peace is probably a healthier model for some of us this year. Just a thought, friends.
When it comes to the holidays and the pandemic, I hear lots of people talking about ‘getting back to normal’, but I hope most of us have realized that that’s not only not possible, as there’s no way to move but forward in our lives, but also in the wake of such a huge universal disruption as we are experiencing, ‘normal’ should not even be our goal but rather, growth. And around the holidays, considered changes in our giving can make our lives and the lives of others so much better. We can choose simplicity over commercialism. Making instead of buying. Giving experiences to those we love instead of more stuff that no one really needs. We can contribute to local charities with our time and our treasure. We can look for where the need is, in our own community or the larger world, and try our best to answer it with what we have.
There’s a story about St. Nicholas that illustrates this idea well. There was a poor man who had three growing daughters and no way to provide a dowry for them. And without a dowry, the girls were unlikely to be married and therefore would be sold into a life of slavery, a terrible outcome and a real burden on the Dad to figure out. Inexplicably on three different occasions, a bag of gold was tossed into an open window of the poor man’s home, providing the needed dowries for the girls. St. Nicholas’ stealthy gift was about much more than the material substance of gold. He was providing what was most needed in a practical way to make the man and his daughters’ lives better, and the quiet and anonymous way he provided these gifts gave dignity to them all.
As we consider giving during this season, we can be mindful of the lessons of St. Bridget and St. Nicholas – to give what we have, to use our talents, to see a need and try to fulfill it, and to be open to where God is leading us. We can give simply, remembering to restore ourselves with gifts of time and peace, and we can use this season to prepare our hearts for the best gift we ever got – Jesus, our brother, our teacher, our God. He gave all, and He asked us to give as we receive, that is to say personally and abundantly, so friends, this year, let us give well.
Thanks so much for listening today. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks to those of you who are sharing, rating, reviewing, and subscribing to this podcast as all of that really helps our community to grow and I appreciate that, so thank you, friend. I have lots of resources in the show notes for you to explore this topic in a deeper way, so do check those out, but before we close today, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in this time of giving, open our eyes so that we can see what’s needed and where and by whom. Open our minds to be creative and our hearts to be generous. Help us to use what we have; our talent, time, and treasure to give well this season, and to receive, too, all that You have for us. In the song, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, we hear the words of a poor child who wishes to give to You in the manger. As we remember that everything we give to one of Your people is truly a gift to You, help us to follow his example.
“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man, I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart.”
Thanks again for listening, friends, and I’ll see you next time.