Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
We’ve spent a lot of time the last couple of years working on the idea of gifts. The Called and Gifted Workshop, now a part of our parish experience, will be offered again this August 26-27. In my experience, the Workshop fulfills two principal tasks.
First, it challenges you to make an inventory of gifts, despite the fact you are probably convinced you don’t have any. Most people don’t think about it, or would never claim special gifts. You can’t be baptized without gifts. Baptism comes with gifts; you have them. The second task comes with work in small groups—you learn to experience self through others and their feedback. We are the worst judge of ourselves: we can underestimate or overestimate our gifts so easily. If you overestimate, you can come up short, frustrated. If you underestimate, you can go to waste.
Four Workshops later, I personally have realized that when God gives, he doesn’t give partially. There is no such thing as only getting part of a gift. As if I could think that I only got a part of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. Maybe just a little bit of this, a little of that. God gives gifts according to his knowledge of us, according to what we are capable of doing: what we need in order to accomplish his will. God gives us the entire gift.
At our two Confirmation Masses last week, I was standing right there as the confirmandi came forward with their sponsors. I was looking into teir faces—8th graders don’t want you to think they are paying attention—and I saw a deep connection taking place. The Holy Spirit was filling them with what the Holy Spirit knew they needed to go forward from that day as active participants in faith and the Church. In today’s world, that is a lot.
I didn’t get to give a reflection at those Masses, but what I wanted to say was, “Don’t underestimate what just happened! Please— don’t underestimate the gift you just received! You don’t have to make a lot of mistakes—you don’t have to doubt a lot of things, because God’s love is perfect—and he has just filled you with perfect love! No need to doubt it, that that gift is absolute. Even if it may seem just like a little, it is more than enough to go around.
Think of the Gospel from last week. Five loaves, two fish, 5000 men (double that many, probably, adding women and children). Jesus’ first instruction to his disciples: “Give them something to eat yourselves.” They responded with doubt: what do we have to give? All the time they had spent with Jesus, so many gifts. They underestimated the reality.
Jesus gives himself entirely in the Eucharist, not just a little piece of himself. ALL the Son of God, Jesus Christ, not just a memory or a thought or a finger of the Body, but completely himself. We can doubt as we walk out of church today whether or not we have the full presence of Jesus within us. Like I wanted to say to the newly confirmed: Don’t doubt that. Don’t underestimate the gift you have received today. It is the full power, beauty, truth, God himself. Spend some time reflecting what this gift must mean. If I have received the author of all creation, and all life, the perfect lover, how must my life be different now?
It took me nearly twenty years as a priest to finally realize: Once you recognize the gifts you have received, you are changed. You don’t look at life the same way anymore. You recognize what God is doing for you.
The Eucharist was the culmination of everything that Jesus did, everything that the Father does with creation, the whole story of difficulty, struggle, covenant, infidelity, suffering, pain, death—and then the Son of God empties himself to put himself in our place so that he is certain that what he communicates to us makes sense. He has heard it with his own human ears. He knows what we need, he knows what feeds us, he becomes the perfect expression of what sustains, what grows, what saves lives. Food and drink, what we need to not starve and live. And we are capable of appreciating what we receive, as he knew in his humanity of his own Father’s goodness to himself.
This is how we know that we can be his presence to the world: We are called, and have received the fullness of his gifts, and love.
God bless you.