by an MH Mission House director.
Ordinarily we would tell you the name of the mission house a story occurred in, and the author, but this time we want to guard the privacy of the woman involved. And to further do so, we have changed a number of the details. But, in its essence, this story really happened just before Christmas last year.
It was December 23, the day before Christmas Eve. Our house is not usually involved in giving Christmas gifts to the poor, but this year we had been.
A friend of ours who is newly retired and loves to sew had made a number of lovely cloth dolls and asked us to give them to the children we know. And so we did. She had made quite a few of them, and we had wrapped them up and given them to the mothers to give to their little girls at Christmas.
And now, just as we were rushing around with last-minute Christmas preparations, another friend came to our house carrying a big box.
She had been to a toy store, she told us, buying a last-minute gift for her grandson, when she noticed a beautiful doll. As she admired it, she thought, "Any little girl would be so happy to have that doll!"
If she had had a little granddaughter, she would have bought it for her, but she didn’t.
Suddenly, something moved in her: Buy the doll and give it to a poor little girl.
So she bought it, even though it was expensive. She didn’t know any poor little girls, but she knew we did. Would we give it to a little girl who wouldn’t be getting much for Christmas?
We had already given a doll to every poor little girl we knew, but what could we say? We took the doll.
Who could we give it to? What family had we missed? What family with a little girl?
Suddenly I remembered a family that had recently moved in down the street. I had seen two or three children playing in front of that house. One of them was a girl of about seven.
So I said to myself, "I’m just going to ask that mother."
I went to the door and knocked, and I was invited in. After we’d chatted a bit, I asked the mother, "Would you be willing to receive a gift from us for your little girl for Christmas? We have a lovely doll that we could give you." She looked at me, and her eyes filled with tears. She reached forth her arms, grasped me, hugged me, and started sobbing in my arms.
Then she said, "I just told my children that this Christmas is going to be very different. Last year we had a nice Christmas, but we’ve just moved here, and Daddy doesn’t have a job. This Christmas we are not going to be able to do what we did last year."
I just said, "Oh, I’m so glad to know that. What else do you need?"
She said, "We are going to try and sell whatever we can because our electric bill is overdue, and they are going to cut us off if we don’t pay."
I said, "Well, you know, this is Christmas. People always give us extra money at Christmas. Come by tomorrow. Come by and I’m sure we can help you pay your electric bill."
The next day—I’m going to call her Maria, but that’s not her name—Maria came and brought the electric bill, and we made a copy of it. I was able to give her the money for that, and then she handed me a little package.
The wrapping was a colorful page torn from a magazine. It had lots of red and green and looked Christmassy.
When she gave it to me, she said, "I just had to give you something to thank you, but I didn’t have any wrapping paper."
I was so touched, as you can imagine, and I said, "May I open it?"
She said, "Oh, please do." When I opened it, there inside was a small, beautiful wooden statue of Our Lady. It looked old and hand-carved. I said to her, "Oh, Maria, this is beautiful."
She said, "Yes, it’s something I got from my grandmother in Poland."
I said, "You can’t give that away. I can’t take it."
She said, "I have something else from her, too, but it’s very important for me to give this to you. I really want to give this to you.
"Yesterday I was desperate and I cried out and I said, ‘God, please help me.’ And you walked in the door. You were an answer to my prayer, and I really want you to have this."
Now let me backtrack a little. There was another woman in town who had said to us earlier, "My friend and I, if you come across anybody who needs something for Christmas, let us know."
So on December 23, when I got home from Maria’s, I phoned up this other woman and said, "I know it’s the eleventh hour, but we’ve just come across a family that needs assistance."
So the next day, Christmas Eve, she and her friend showed up with a complete Christmas dinner and gifts for the two little boys, and something for Mom and Dad, too, and I think some of those gift cards you take to the grocery store. So I was able to bring all that over to the family.
So instead of the bleak Christmas the family had dreaded, they had a wonderful Christmas.
We see them often now. Things are still challenging for them, but not as bleak. And they are a gift to us. The children are a gift; Maria is a gift. But they have given us an even greater gift than that.
Catherine Doherty sometimes talked about our promise of poverty in connection with the Beatitudes, combining blessed are the poor in spirit with blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Those two beatitudes came together in her mind and heart in a profound way.
She said: the poor will inherit the earth. What did she mean? She meant that when I am poor, I inherit the earth. And what I inherit is the confidence of the poor.
This was the Christmas gift I received from Maria, a gift far greater than I had given her. For the statue was a symbol of her confidence in me. Maria had given me her heart, and that is a very profound gift.
I think of this often when I look at that statue sitting in a prominent niche in our living room.
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