Christmas and other holiday celebrations are times when the human spirit goes beyond itself into cheerful giving. It’s estimated that U.S. consumers will spend billions of dollars on retail shopping alone. Indicative and emblematic of this obsession with buying stuff is the shopping behavior displayed in what has become known as “Black Friday and Cyber Monday” — with both of these days offering the savvy consumer all kinds of irresistible and enticing deals.
Also, festive lights, Christmas trees and decorations can too often lure us even deeper into this consumer culture. Without giving it much thought, we find ourselves planning and searching for the perfect gift for our friends, colleagues and loved ones. While there is always the occasional procrastinator, most of us try to prepare early, avoiding the stress that comes with leaving our gift shopping to the last hour.
Yet, this festive and cheerful time of giving can also be a difficult time. In our social circles of close friends and family members, we know individuals for whom this time is emotionally draining and often fraught with deep sadness and depression. But whether we embrace the season of giving with gloom or glee, this year has challenged all of us to take a deeper look at how we give of ourselves in kindness and generosity.
Already, the COVID-19 pandemic has made devastating demands in our personal and social lives. In unexpected ways, the whole world had to alter its natural trajectory. No person, family, neighborhood or society has been immune to the painful and deadly effects of the virus. Collectively, we’ve had to make behavioral adjustments, like wearing our masks, washing our hands and keeping our social distance for the well-being of others, especially the most vulnerable.
Furthermore, this pandemic continues to make extraordinary and painful demands. The volume of infections, hospitalizations and the unprecedented numbers of COVID-19 related deaths in our communities have narrowed the gap between those directly impacted and those spared by this disease. More and more, we find ourselves sharing stories of friends, colleagues and loved ones who are being directly impacted or have died because of this virus.
At the same time, we hear stories of great resilience and have seen amazing heroic responses. The sacrifices of frontline staff, first responders, essential workers and medical personnel have not been far from our sight. In them we have witnessed men and women who tirelessly and selflessly continue to give themselves away in acts of deep care, compassion and solidarity.
In a similar way, this spirit of generosity and kindness has been present in our different faith communities. Mindful of the sense of loss that comes from not being able to gather regularly in our sacred spaces, we have encouraged one another to adapt and find creative means to stay connected, especially in moments of prayer. Together, we are discovering that the small and big sacrifices we are having to make are joined to the deepest sentiments of our religious beliefs, values and traditions.
As Catholics, in particular, we recognize how much our spirituality and faith is rooted in this experience of sacrificial giving. We understand from our Gospel stories that our highest calling is precisely to give ourselves away in love. “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13-16).
In this Christmas season when much is being asked of us, and the joy of presents uplifts us, may we not lose sight of the grace of giving ourselves away in the gift of social friendship and the embrace of our human family.
F. Javier Orozco
First published December 17, 2020 in the St. Louis Review