The Giver and the Gift | Fr. Charles Kestermeier, SJ | HPR
God is himself the first, and absolutely the most important gift that God gives to us, which implies a second gift: God gives us our very selves.
One thing that people seem to do in all cultures is to give gifts, and this is always wrapped in all sorts of traditions and expectations. It seems to be a very human activity, one I have pondered for some time, but I have never quite been able to resolve the difference between the way that we give and receive as humans, and the way God gives (and we give to him) yet, I have at least come to some ideas on the subject. To begin on the most fundamental level, we might consider how people give gifts. There is the gift to mark a relationship that doesn’t really exist: a Christmas card to people we can’t remember very well, the aunt who gives her niece and godchild a gift appropriate to a four-year-old even when the girl is 15, the friend who makes fudge for a diabetic, and so on.
We can give a gift as a means of keeping a person in contact with us, out of guilt or gratitude, even though the other person might wish that we would stop. And, we can give gifts because it is customary in our society, or because we are expected to, such as at a retirement party, a distant cousin’s birthday, or a wedding. These can be extremely impersonal and merely keep us in good standing in the community.
Some people, whether they realize it or not, give to control others: a book that will reveal the truth about something, or will change our lives, or a gift card for some store or service that the donor likes, but which the recipient avoids. Some people might think that your apartment or office is too stark and will give a picture or a pillow to make it more comfortable—to their taste, not to yours. Some gifts are simply to create a feeling of debt on the part of the recipient: “I have done all this for you, so now you owe me.” Perhaps, we can all imagine a time we have given a gift out of guilt, a desire to have the other indebted to us, or out of less than charitably noble intentions.
Too often, we can experience all such gifts as annoyances, attempts to interfere with our lives, or a manipulation of our relationships with others. Gifts like that convey no feeling of true gift, no sign of an authentic personal relationship, and they can actually be oppressive.
And there are other ways to respond to gifts.