All human persons share one ‘characteristic’ in common; regardless of ethnicity, country of origin, age, political party or spiritual or moral values and beliefs. What is that one thing? Take a guess. If you guessed that we are each a gift [freely bestowed upon our parents, siblings, and even fellow citizens] you have guessed correctly. Not one of us could have asked for life simply because we were nothing at one time — and not that long ago! And we all know that nothing can’t ask for something! So, not one of us could have asked for life! Not one of us could have asked for our gender. Not one of us could have asked for anything about us! That makes us each a gift from Someone to someone. The magnitude of being bestowed with life freely and for the purpose of becoming a gift to the small world we entered is mind-boggling. But it should be more than that. It should prompt all of us to adopt a humble, yet virtuous gratitude for our life. We should all be bubbling over with enthusiasm for the chance to think, pray, love, act, read, imagine, estimate, etc. And to whom should we be especially grateful for the gift of life each and every day of our lives?
While our parents certainly played a role in bestowing life; they still were not the ultimate gift giver, After all the life giving materials they supplied were merely biological. And because we think of our biology as our own, some parents unfortunately tender their ‘right of first refusal’ by opting instead for abortion, putting their child up for adoption, or just neglecting the ones they birthed. All of you reading this article obviously had parents who cooperated in some way with the gift giver — they refused to reject the gift. And so we are mostly grateful to our parents. However, no parent — even those who pick their sons or daughters out of long cold tubes — has ever been tasked with the design of their babies. They can’t order up a child’s makeup including his/her’s personality, intelligence, future outcomes and careers, character strengths and weaknesses, beliefs, worldview, emotional state, looks, genetics, and final destination. And they certainly have nothing to do with creation of the child’s soul which is naturally bestowed on each human life at the moment of conception by God Himself. This makes all of us — not just you or me but everyone — a beloved creature of the Divine Creator. We are God’s gift to the world. So how are we supposed to react to that good news? What do we act like when we believe that? These are the questions that we often fail to think about or to talk about with our children.
Consider that quite a few years back — maybe around the time our oldest children went to Catholic grade school — the I Am Special Catechesis Curriculum was introduced into schools. The premise was to teach tolerance for fellow students. How well has that turned out? Tolerance for every person on earth is of course a very good virtue to strive for provided it is subjected and/or rooted in Truth - God’s Truth, not man’s. If we are able to give right praise to God, things will fall into order with regard to our regard of other persons. That is a requirement and truth about Love. If we love God and are grateful for his creative powers, we will readily accept the fact that each and every person — including self — is very special. But when we begin to boast about life as if it is our own to do with whatever we want and without considering the intentions of our Heavenly Father, we will never get tolerance or truth right. Instead, we begin to see God’s Truth as intolerant and divisive. But without God’s Love and graces we will never have love. And without Truth, we will never be able to impart truth. We are taught in Galatians 6:14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”
So, what type of boasting is going on in contemporary society? At this time of year, we hear a lot of boasting about personal achievements, but how much credit is given to God? It seems to me that we hear a lot more complaints about the Designer and His design of Life than righteous boasting in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. How much boasting about life sees life itself as an unconditional gift which deserves unconditional gratitude?
Consider that the Feast of the Visitation recounts the good news Mary shared with Elizabeth, her cousin. She announced to Elizabeth that she was to become the mother of Jesus. And what was Elizabeth’s response? “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb - Jesus; mother of God.” Together they gave right praise to God; going so far as to boast about Mary’s motherhood and her son Jesus who is the Savior of the world. This boasting was genuine and righteous. Mary certainly understood that saying yes to God’s gift meant that she would also have to say yet to hardship and heart piercings. Yet, she boasted readily not about the fact that one day she would be Queen Mother but about the role of her son - Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior of us all. Mary kept many things to herself until the right time, the right place and with the right persons. And when she did share, she give right praise and boasting about her Creator and His son rather than drawing attention to self.
How do we share the good news of life with those around us? How especially do we remind our young adolescents that they were created by God and therefore should give rightful praise to God in appreciation for how and when and why they were made. If male, that is part and parcel of God’s design for him. If female, that is part and parcel of God’s design for her. This is the type of discussions that are needed with young people; especially because all around us we hear others suggest that gender is a choice and relative. All around us we hear we are our own keepers. Yet, sharing God’s Truth is the only sure way to restore confidence in our young people.
It is also a good time to talk about natural gifts and gift giving. How well do we show our appreciation for gifts received? What do we do with the gift? If we immediately exchange it for something else, how well have we really received the gift? If you tend to exchange gifts frequently — think about what this is teaching your children. If you have your children exchange their gifts readily, consider how to genuinely instill gratitude — the virtue — in your children?
It is time to define, reveal and practice the virtue of gratitude for real, in great and small matters; in every day discussions about life; in matters that deal with gender; and in matters that deal with good and bad behaviors. We have to exude gratitude as we try to get to the core of the problems all around us — both in our homes and public arenas. It seems to me, that many of the problems stem from having a lack of understanding, and practice of the personal virtues of gratitude and obedience — which naturally yield to the wisdom, help and grace of the ultimate Gift Giver.