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Visum Monachae…On Gifts

Sister Edith

I remember every detail of Christmas from my first year in college, more than 40 years ago. Back then, teenagers were an especially rebellious lot, myself included. Anything our parents liked, we considered “square” or “stupid.” My mom was probably disgusted with my attitude, but she put on a brave face. She was determined to make sure we had a happy family Christmas.

She took my sister and I shopping in the glittery department stores of downtown Chicago. We were supposed to look for gifts for my dad, various aunts, uncles, and cousins. We kids were no help: we kept looking at things we wanted for ourselves. I begged to try on an embroidered dress, hoping to wheedle my mom into purchasing it if it fit. When I came out of the dressing room, though, she was already gone. Discouraged, I hung the dress back on the rack while the clerk chatted about how nice it looked. “Yeah,” I said, “but my mom doesn’t like that kind of thing. Too bad.”

And so my mom went around the store. She chose sweaters, scarves, wallets and jewelry, for the people on her list. We kids shopped for ourselves and went home disgruntled. Even though we whined and pestered like grade school kids, our mom stuck to her list. We sulked around until Christmas, confident that whatever she and dad bought for us would be boring – nothing like those great things we left behind at Marshall Fields.

Christmas morning we got up early like little kids usually do, filled with hopes of something wonderful, despite our teenage indifference. We waited impatiently for mom and dad to finish their coffee before diving into the presents, the main event of the day in our non-religious family. Mom handed me a flat box. I prepared my fake “Oh, it’s nice!” face for the drab sweater I expected. But – could it be? There was the dress I left on the rack! All the gifts were like that. Mom had signed charge slips while we shopped, telling the sales clerk to box items up and have them delivered if we seemed to like them.

The best gifts, the ones that matter years later, are like that Christmas. The giver overlooks or forgives bumps in the relationship. The item suits the person; mom knew she was understood and appreciated. There’s a moment of surprise, of realizing that someone cares despite what St. Benedict calls all our “weaknesses of character or body.”

Let Advent, the season of preparing to give and receive gifts, open a space of seeing and appreciating in your heart. Rather than rushing about with shopping carts, spend time prayerfully reflecting on each family member or friend. What is on their hearts? What is their deepest need? What can you give, do, or offer that speaks to that deep space? This spirituality of acceptance opens a space in your own heart so that God’s gifts of love, hope and peace can enter in. May it be so for you.

Sister Edith Bogue is Associate Professor in Sociology at the College and Vocation Director at the Monastery. No matter which holy day / holiday you celebrate, she and the Sisters pray that it will be filled with love and joy.