William Kurelek's painting, "Welcome at the Country Mission depicting the Holy Family arrving at St Benedict's Acres, Combermere, ON, and being welcomed.

The Gift of Oneself

by Catherine Doherty

There is a mystery wrapped up in Advent: the call to give of oneself as Our Lady did.

Oh, we’re willing to give ourselves—for a little while. We don’t mind doing good works—for a little while. We don’t mind doing this and that, whatever can help the neighbor, not at a very big cost to ourselves—for a little while.

But that doesn’t work out; that doesn’t work out at all. Not before the Child in the manger! Look at the Child in the manger.

There, you will see the utter poverty of Jesus Christ, the utter gift of Jesus Christ to us, as a Child. Then our “giving only a little” doesn’t work out, not at all. What we really have to do is to surrender.

It is immaterial if you are a priest, a nun, a mother, a father, a single person, a career woman or whatever. Name it; it makes no difference.

If you are a baptized Christian, you owe it to that Child who was born to save us all in that total poverty, to embrace total poverty. And this total poverty must be embraced from inside.

Let’s face it. If you are the father of a family, you cannot squander the money that should go for the education (or whatever) of your children. There is a certain limit as to what you can do in this situation, because that’s your job, that’s what God has called you to be: a protector, a provider.

But, even if you can’t give away your money, you can give yourself. (Now, that’s very difficult!) What we have here is a strange sort of “meeting,” the encounter of a mystery with a mystery.

There is a little Child, who is God. And there is a human being who wants to give totally to the Other.

These two, who have given themselves so completely, meet. The human being allows the Child to enter his or her heart, and to make a manger there. And in that human heart, this Child will grow, grow to manhood.

Whoever gives of themselves in this way, they too will become the Child. They will grow and mature into Christ. They truly will be an icon of Christ.

This “giving of self” is strange. It is like a restlessness within the heart. It is like waves beating on the shore. It is the man or the woman who says, “I cannot rest unless I really surrender myself to God.” And so, eventually, they do.

Without changing their style of life, without changing their vocation, their inwardness (that “something” which is inside of a human being and which seldom comes forth) cries out: “I want to be one with God.”

It is said that whoever desires God possesses God. And how much more so a person who really wants to give totally of self!

It’s very difficult for me to explain what this giving of oneself means. It is a sort of a “listening of a human heart” to the heart of others, to the needs of others, wherever they may be. It is a human heart that understands what has to be done for others, whoever they are, wherever they may be. It is a beautiful thing, but it is so rare.

We get all emotional about Christmas. We “shell out” our effort and our money, or what-have-you. Then comes January and February and March; and we have forgotten so many things. We’ve forgotten to listen to the needs of others.

This listening should begin in your own family. For you, entering the mystery of God’s surrender to human flesh means that you must enter into a profound surrender to others, in a sort of blind totality that never questions but is always ready and available.

If you act as a Christian, then people will follow you. Yes, for miles and miles and miles.

But you will find it very difficult to distinguish how exactly to act; for this, you need help. Your greatest help is prayer, prayer to learn what has to be done and to do it.

Back during the Depression, at Friendship House in Toronto, I had so many people come to me for Christmas cheer (you know, for food), that I had a long list. I went begging all over the place for them, and kindly butchers and grocers donated enough to fill the needs of about 400 or 500 people.

Then, about two days before Christmas, a little mother came to me. She’d been sick and her husband had abandoned her. She had six children, and asked me for something to give them to eat.

All I could do was to phone a very rich person, a friend of mine, and explain the situation. She said: “You can forget about it, Katie. I’ll attend to it.” So Christmas came, and Christmas went, and I was wondering what this lady had given the family.

About a week later, the mother dropped in and said to me: “It was wonderful! We had turkey and celery and sweet potatoes and a big cake. You should have seen it.

It wasn’t a basket; it was four baskets! And there were toys for all the children, and candies. Oh, we never had a Christmas like that!”

Then she stopped, and tears came to her eyes. “You know, there is one sadness in my heart,” she said. “A handsome chauffeur with a beautiful car brought the gifts.

“But the lady who sent the baskets wasn’t there, and so I couldn’t thank her.”

So, here was this very rich woman who sent the family all the things she could think of; but she didn’t send herself. And that made all the difference!

It’s little things that count, you know. Tiny things. The rich woman probably had a lot to attend to, herself, so close to Christmas.

But there it was.

That is the essence of Advent, and of Christmas too. God gives Himself to us “without a backward glance.”

How well he knew that he was going to be crucified and all the rest of it! But He arrived as a Child. That is total surrender, total giving. God let himself be taken care of by a woman. And what with all the little difficulties babies have, that was quite something!

Advent has great mysteries to it. I ask you to think about Advent and Christmas with a prayer, because prayer is the key to the door of these mysteries. And it is a door worth opening.

From Donkey Bells, (2000), pp. 26-29, available from MH Publications