By Mary Frances Myler
Christmas, in all its glory, has dawned on us once more, and continues to dawn throughout the Christmas season until mid-January. This season reminds us to celebrate the mystery of the incarnation, the joys of family and friends, and the beauty of generosity. Christmas is a season of many gifts, both physical and spiritual. At the Northern Michigan Catholic Foundation, we are especially grateful for the gifts of generous donors which enable us to support the mission of the Church in Northern Michigan.
God gives us many gifts during this Christmas season — peace, joy, and his presence. His Son, the ultimate gift, dwells among us as an infant. We can never repay him for these gifts, but God gives freely without counting the cost. He asks not that we repay him, but that we imitate his generosity in our daily lives.
As Epiphany draws near, the gifts of the Magi exemplify this imitation of generosity. St. Peter Chrysologus, a 5th century bishop and Doctor of the Church, said this of their gifts:
Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body. As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die.
St. Peter Chrysologus recognizes the fundamental elements of Epiphany: sight, belief, and response. Upon seeing the Holy Infant, the Magi were filled with wonder and belief. They could not understand the full truth of Christ, for he had only begun to reveal himself to the world. Yet, the Magi believed in the inexplicable reality they encountered in the person of Jesus. These first two elements of their gift to Jesus were, in fact, gifts of God. Only through his will did they see Christ and come to believe.
Upon seeing and believing, the Magi offered a response — gifts to the child before them. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh probably seemed small and insignificant compared to God “enclosed in a tiny body.” Yet, God accepted their humble gifts and magnified them, giving them symbolic meaning and enduring witness. Just as the Magi could not fully understand the sight before them, they could not understand the significance of their gifts, which St. Peter Chrysologus identifies as symbolic of kingship, divinity, and sacrifice. The Magi gave freely, and God enshrined their generosity in salvation history. Today, we celebrate this faithful and trusting response to their encounter with Jesus.
Just as the Magi could not fully understand their experience on Epiphany, we cannot fully understand our own encounter with God. “We see dimly, as through a mirror” (1 Cor 13:12), and so faith guides us. But, like the Magi, we are called to respond to God’s self-gift with our own generosity. We are called, in the words of St. Mother Teresa, to “do something beautiful for God.” The full extent of our gift can never be known, for God accepts and multiplies each meager gift we give him. He delights in our small acts of generosity and returns them hundred-fold.
At the Northern Michigan Catholic Foundation, we continuously witness this multiplication of gifts. Donations to Catholic schools provide students with a faith-based education that remains with them throughout life. Support given to parishes facilitates the work of evangelization, which touches hearts and minds in a myriad of ways. Donations to Catholic organizations and charities allow for continuous ministry to the people of Northern Michigan. The beauty of giving lies in its unknowable impact. When a check is written, no one can predict the ways in which that money will affect the lives of others, for only God knows the hearts of all people.
At the end of the day, we don’t bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus; we merely approach him with the humble attitude of the Magi and bring him what we can. Christ weaves our gifts, however small, into the story of salvation. He rejoices at our generosity, for “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7) and always augments our gifts with an outpouring of his grace. All he asks is that we “gaze in deep wonder” at what we see: Christ in our midst, continually giving of himself in free and total love.