I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord’ as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.
1 Samuel 1: 27-8
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;/ my spirit rejoices in God my savior,/ for God has looked upon his lowly servant./ From this day all generations will call me blessed;/ the Almighty has done great things for me,/ and holy is God’s Name./ God has mercy on those who fear him/ in every generation.
Luke 1: 46-50
St. Francis de Sales wrote: ““Nothing so tends to humble us before the Mercy of God as the multitude of God’s gifts to us.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, chapter 5) Today we read of Hannah bringing her longed for child to the temple to give back to God the gift that God has so miraculously given her. We then read in Luke’s account of Mary’s Magnificat that it is from the awareness that “God has done great things for me” that Mary magnifies the Lord and gives her whole life over to God’s will for her.
We give gifts at Christmastime. Although this has become extremely commercialized in some places and often horribly overdone, the act of gift giving itself is profoundly related to the ‘true message of Christmas.” In the desire we experience to give a gift to one we love, and in the deep appreciation we experience in being given a gift from another, despite our unworthiness to receive it, we are drawn profoundly into the Mystery of Christmas. The infant that we contemplate in the images of the creche before us and the words of the gospel is sheer and total gift to us. As when we work diligently to choose the gift that another would truly want, need, and delight in, God gives us the gift without which we have no life at all. In the promptings and desires of the heart to find “the perfect gift” for another, we dimly but really touch God’s desire for us. In receiving the gift given with deep gratitude and awe, we come to realize that all of our life is gift and grace to us.
Francis de Sales tells us that true humility is an outgrowth of gratitude. Without gratitude any attempt at humility is dissociation or pride. As a young religious, I tended to confuse humility with the feeling of shame. Our Master of Novices used to teach us that there is no humility without humiliation. Yet Francis de Sales says that true humility is not based on shame but rather on an experience of the mercy of God that we know by realizing “the multitude of God’s gifts to us.” It is gratitude that evokes self-awareness in us, and that awareness moves us to want to give gifts to others. Our humble gratitude is the source of our desiring to “give back” from all we have received, even though our capacity for that giving seems to us, in comparison with all we have been given, poor and weak.
Hannah and Mary both desire to give back to God everything they are and have because they realize that it is all a gift to them. They know that nothing, even the dear child Hannah has so longed for all her life, belongs to them but has been freely and mercifully given to them by God. We give at Christmas because we desire those we love to know they are loved by us, but also that they may realize that the lives of all of us are a gift of love. Pope Francis incisively states that the merciful love of God when spoken to us is an “invitation to conversation.” The great illusion and great sin of human life is that we are separate and autonomous. It is that our lives belong to ourselves, that there exists anything like a “self-made” woman or man. We exist in a “conversation,” a conversation that is an ongoing act of relationship, of growing into love, of ongoing formation and conversion of life and manners. We are, all together, on the path as companions. As we exist only as a gift of God, so we are to be a gift to others.
In this life of following Christ,
allow yourself, therefore, to be given away,
together with your sisters and brothers,
as nourishment for others,
as bread that is broken.
Gratitude does not always come easily to us. Perhaps a part of the reason is that to be really grateful humbles us. When we tell one who loves us and gifts us in some way that he or she “didn’t need to do that,” we are missing the point. We are not gifted because we deserve it, but rather because we are loved and being asked to enter, in humility and truth, the great “conversation” with God and with all. We shall always feel far too “lowly” to give ourselves away so fully and dramatically, but it is, as Mary says, the lowly whom God lifts up and the hungry whom God fills.
These days as we share love and gifts with each other, may we come to recognize and realize every more fully “the multitude of God’s gifts to us.” May we allow that gratitude to humble us enough so that no pride will hold us back from giving our all, as little as it seems, to others.
Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart. “Great is God’s mercy,” says the Psalm.
Pope Francis, Angelus on March 17, 2013