Deciphering the Meaning of Our Gifts
At the heart of today’s Feast of Epiphany is the giving of the three most famous gifts of all times: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Of course the true gift of Christmas is the Christ Child. Because the Christmas story is so familiar we can readily forget its awesome unexpectedness. Our unworthiness to receive so great a gift and our general lack of appreciation for our Heavenly Father’s gift of His Son puts us in a sort of indebtedness to God’s immense and superabundant favor.
One of the writers most attuned to this truth was Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), the English journalist, Catholic convert and great troubadour of the Christmas mystery. I love all of his writing, but perhaps most his writing on Christmas. He pondered often the meaning of the gifts that he had been given: “It is the highest and holiest of the paradoxes that the man who really knows he cannot pay his debt will be for ever paying it. He will be for ever giving back what he cannot give back, and cannot be expected to give back. He will be always throwing things away into a bottomless pit of unfathomable thanks.” Those words described the way that St. Francis of Assisi, himself a great lover of Christmas, lived and responded to the gift of God. St. Francis is famous for first having arranged a living nativity scene for Midnight Mass one year in Greccio, Italy which emphasized a new realism in the Church’s devotion.
The gift of Christmas is so great that it puts us in that kind of relationship with God. Like the question in Psalm 116, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?” we are meant to ponder the wondrous exchange and the gift of Christ’s coming into the world as Savior and Redeemer. Every other gift that we give and receive is a mere faint echo or attempt to express our gratitude, love and devotion. Since Christmas is the feast of the Greatest of Gifts, it becomes a season for the giving of gifts which all point us back to the first things for which we have to be thankful.
Chesterton again: “Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs? We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?” How simple and how true! The life that is ours—both biological and spiritual—is the great gift that we have received in Christ.
All gifts mean something. Have we ever stopped to reflect upon the meaning of the three gifts brought to the Christ Child in the manger? GK Chesterton picked up on the insights of some of the early Church fathers who reflected on the meaning of these gifts carried by the strange magi from out of the East. “There were three things prefigured and promised by the gifts in the cave of Bethlehem concerning the Child who received them; [gold] that He should be crowned like a King: [frankincense] that He should be worshipped like a God; and [myrrh] that He should die like a man. And these things would sound like Eastern flattery, were it not for the third” (GK Chesterton, G.K.’s Weekly, December 12, 1931). Those gifts indicate the mysterious identity of the Christ Child, an identity intuited by these star gazing wise men and searchers after truth.
Perhaps we can take inventory of the gifts that we have received recently from loved ones and ask what they mean. What do they call us to? How can we put them to good use and live more gratefully because of them? How should we live because of what we have received? Of course I do not mean only the material gifts that we found under the tree or in our Christmas stockings, but also the immaterial gifts that we have received and that we are called to give: time, patience, empathy, charity, kindness, forgiveness, encouragement and more.
As we look back at a wonderful Christmas octave, I want to draw attention one more time to the evergreen wreaths that are adorning the doors to our churches. If you missed my note in last weekend’s bulletin, I want to reiterate that these wreaths are hanging as a sign of appreciation for all of our dedicated volunteers who give of themselves in countless ways throughout our parish. The beautiful wreaths were made by organizers of the Holy Family Home whose mission supports an orphanage in Ukraine (more at www.jmjhome.org). A charitable contribution was made to the Holy Family Home in honor of
our parish volunteers in deep gratitude for their service. In this Christmas season, please know of my personal appreciation, the appreciation of our staff and of our entire parish. We could not do it without you! Also, as we take inventory of the gifts that our parish has received from your generosity, I want to express our heartfelt gratitude. Giving statements for your contributions over this past year will be sent out by the end of January.
May 2019 find us open to receive the graces and gifts that the Lord desires to give,
Chalking the Door: An Epiphany Tradition
The Christmas season is rich with traditions to take into your homes. Consider adopting the custom of the traditional Epiphany Blessing in your homes. A limited amount of blessed chalk to mark the doorways of your homes is available after Masses this weekend. The below text is adapted from Carmelite Brother Daryl Moresco, OCarm, wherein he explains this simple but beautiful tradition: On the Feast of the Epiphany, the family gathers to ask God’s blessing on their home and on those who live in or visit the home. It is an invitation for Jesus to be a daily guest in our home, our comings and goings, our conversations, our work and play, our joys and sorrows. A traditional way of doing this is to use chalk to write above the home’s entrance. It can also be written somewhere inside the home, but especially over the lintel of exterior doors.
20 + C + M + B + 19
· The letters C, M, B have two meanings: They are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.
· They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus Mansionem Benedicat, “May Christ bless the house.”
· The “+” signs represent the Cross of Christ and 2019 is the year.
Here’s a suggested format for the blessing:
All make the Sign of the Cross.
Leader: Peace be to this house and to all who dwell here, in the name of the Lord. All: Thanks be to God.
A Gospel Reading from Matthew 2:1-12 can be taken from a Bible or found at USCCB.ORG
Using chalk, write on the outside of your house or inside above the front main entrance, above or next to an entrance:
20 + C + M + B + 19
All: Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who live here and all who visit. May we be blessed with health, kindness of heart, gentleness and the keeping of your law. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our love for each other may extend to all. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.