By Regis Flaherty
Regis Flaherty is a bestselling author of several books, including Jesus Is the Gift: The Spirituality of Advent & Christmas, which is the fruit of over seven years of preparing others for Advent through talks on its liturgical themes.
Christmas is traditionally a time of gift-giving, and often we struggle to find the appropriate present for the person we have in the gift exchange or for that family member who doesn’t seem to need anything. Perhaps most difficult of all—if I may adjust an oft-used saying—is what do we give to the God who has everything?
Christina Rossetti had a good answer in her poem, In the Bleak Midwinter. She writes, “Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” But how can we apply that in the practical?
We’re children when we stand before God (1 John 3:1), and it pleases Him when we acknowledge that to be so. St. Therese of Lisieux is the master on spiritual childhood and she often reflected on what she could give to God. She prayed, “I do not have any other means to prove my love to you, but to throw flowers, that is to let no little sacrifice, no look, no word pass, to take advantage of all the littlest of things and to do them out of love. . . . Hence, I pluck every flower I find on my way, for Jesus. And then as I strew my flowers before Him I desire to sing, although I have had to pluck them among thorns. And the sharper and longer the thorns, the sweeter is my song.”
Reflecting on the words of the Little Flower I recall the gifts my children gave me when they were little and how often those gifts touched me deeply. There were those papers that simply showed some scribbled stick figures but were accompanied by the joyful explanation: “That’s a picture of me hugging you, Daddy.”
I remember my children surreptitiously asking me for a dollar or two during December for school. All the while I knew it was for the Christmas fair where they could buy gifts for their parents. What a joy to behold their enthusiasm in presenting that token of their love to me on Christmas day. I had paid for it, but they had poured over the available options to find just the right gift for their dad.
I particularly remember a time when my youngest daughter gave me a homemade card that contained coupons I could redeem for small services she would render—small in practical value but bursting with love. She also included a spiritual bouquet—prayers and sacrifices she had already made on my behalf. I used the coupons but kept the card, and it touches my heart to this day.
So how do we translate that childlike spirit into our gift-giving to Jesus? The heart of a child will find the means! So begin by reflecting on your spiritual childhood and seek your heavenly Father. Like the dollar I gave for the Christmas fair, the Holy Spirit can give you the idea for the perfect gift.
A spiritual bouquet might be a start. Pick a meaningful prayer, litany, or Psalm and then pray it every day of Advent with focused attention. Make it the daily assembling of your Christmas gift to your Savior. Maybe go to Mass an extra day each week.
You could also take something that is already a part of your spiritual routine and do it with renewed commitment and meaning. For example, genuflect with greater reverence during Advent. Don’t make it perfunctory. Instead, take a moment to turn and look to the tabernacle. Recall that you are bending your knee to Jesus. When you reach the floor, do not be in a hurry to rise. Instead, take a moment for a short prayer. I like to say, “Jesus, my Lord, my God, my hope, my salvation, my joy, and my all, I love you.” Whatever prayer you utter, speak it with the love a child shares in presenting that scribbled picture to her parent—not much in material value but bursting with love.
Let me end with two more quotes from St Therese of Lisieux that, I hope, will guide you in deciding your gift to the Savior this Christmas. “Merit does not consist in doing or giving much. It consists in loving much” and “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ.”
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Jesus is the Gift: The Spirituality of Advent and Christmas explores the biblical characters that the Church presents in these liturgical seasons of grace. Author Regis Flaherty helps the reader to walk in their footsteps—to understand the themes of Advent and Christmas, to prepare for the coming of our Lord, and to embrace His plan for our lives. You’ll find inspiration, opportunity, and impetus to prayer and conversion. This is a great book to help all Catholics prepare for and enter into Advent.