Presents OR Presence

(Prayer offered on the Public Address system for the entire La Salle Academy educational community on Friday, 7 December 2018)

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.

I am not a terribly good shopper.  I am one of those people who know what they want to buy and buy it.  I am not particularly fond of standing in long lines or of going through items that are misplaced because so many shoppers before me have been searching through the counters for sales, sizes, favorite colors, etc.  So Christmas shopping is not one of my favorite activities.

Recently, I was appalled when, the day after Halloween in a local CVS, there were not only Thanksgiving items but the start of the Christmas displays.  Every newspaper has extra sections with the latest in bargains, and television and radio commercials lure us in by playing some well known Christmas song.  The commercialism of Christmas really turns me off.  Getting up early on “Black Friday” after Thanksgiving, or surfing the web on Cyber-Monday for bargains are not high on my “to-do” list.

I ask myself if I have become an old Scrooge who mumbles “humbug” under my breath, but I know that Christmas and the season of Advent that precedes it are among my most special times of the year.  For me, this is really a season of gift-giving—and I love giving gifts (and, if I am honest, I love receiving gifts).

So where does that leave me?  The stores are crowded with shoppers and the displays seduce us into buying and more buying.  I say to myself: “There is nothing wrong with giving, as God’s grace is His gift to us each day.”  What is wrong is thinking that things given once a year are a substitute for loving, and caring, and being present the rest of the year.  I ask myself and I ask you to ask yourselves as well: “Is there someone on your Christmas gift list whom you only remember with a yearly present?  Is the gift-giving simply a matter of habit—I always get so and so a gift card since that’s easy to do.  Or is it a matter of making us feel less guilty—I never get to see my elderly grandmother or aunt or I avoid going to see this relative or this other relative—so let me buy them a gift and I won’t feel so bad.  Or is it a matter of social custom—my friend whom I cannot stand gives me a gift so I have to give a gift in return.”  Is the Christmas gift a substitute for love and care the rest of the year?  It is so much more difficult, yet so much more honest and sincere to give the gift of oneself regardless of the season—to spend time on the phone or in person with an elderly relative, to perform those small but meaningful random acts of kindness at home, with parents, with brothers and sisters, with friends here at school, to remember loved ones, both old and new, with notes and calls and cheerful presence (that is P-R-E-S-E-N-C-E).

I tend to think that Christmas might be a much more authentic time if our gifts were not measured by cost in money or by uniqueness or by usefulness, but rather by the cost in personal sacrifice and giving of self and real care for another all the year long.  So, I guess it is OK to stand in long lines in the stores (if that’s your thing!) and I guess it is OK to shop for sales and follow the trail of advertisements—as long as the gift given is really a sign of the gift of love and care given all year long.  Gadgets will wear out and we’ll outgrow clothes or the styles will change, but none of us ever tires of receiving love and care.  This Christmas let’s give of ourselves, as you have been doing so generously with the high school adopt-a-family program, the Middle School’s Kids, Cops and Christmas Fill a Cruiser, your volunteering for the McAuley Village Christmas Party and the other ways so many of you are sacrificing time and treasure for those with less.  BUT, also remember that all these others we are helping now need our help and care all year long.  A token gift now to make us feel good about ourselves is just NOT enough!

And so we pray:  Generous God, you loved us so much that you gave us the gift of yourself, your Son.  And You love us so much today that you grace us freely with all the good gifts we experience in life—health, a home, heat in the cold, safety and security, and so many other things.  Help us to be generous with our love, knowing that love given away returns to us a hundredfold.  We ask this in the name of your son and our brother Jesus whose gift to us was his very life.  Amen.

St. John Baptist de La Salle…pray for us.

Live, Jesus, in our hearts…forever.

Brother Frederick Mueller, FSC