There is a song that we, in the Community of Caritas, play every year on Thanksgiving Day that reminds us so much of Our Lady. The song is called “The Gift”. Though it is a secular song and one that could be taken as a love song, the words strongly suggest what Our Lady has done for us in our lives. On Thanksgiving Day, we finish the day with a Rosary of thanksgiving for the gift God has given in sending us His Mother all these years, and then we play the song. The chorus is as follows:
All I want is to hold you forever.
All I need is you more everyday.
You saved my heart from being broken a part.
You gave your love away
And I’m thankful everyday
For the Gift!
There are few words in the English language that bring the heart as much pleasure as the word “gift”. A gift is something we all look forward to receiving. Whose eyes don’t light up when they hear the words, “I have a gift for you.”? If you want to see a room full of youngsters screaming joyfully around the room, just tell them you have brought them a gift. But in this day and age, our appetites are often so satiated with “things” that we have lost sight of the beauty of gifts given from the heart. The following story illustrates how this can happen. It is a story of growing up in a large family from the memory of one of our community members.
We were a family of 14, twelve kids, and two parents. Our father was an administrator in a public school district. His salary would have offered a comfortable lifestyle for our family if there had been only three or four children, but it was stretched to the limit with a family as large as ours. There wasn’t even a question to find other work. He loved what he did and he was good at it. It was a ministry to him, and the schools he worked for reaped great benefit from his expertise, not just academically, but also spiritually, as he was a great man of faith. From the world’s standards, our family would probably have been classified as poor. As children, we wore hand-me-down clothes, sometimes from other kids in our classes. Our dentist gave free dental care because Dad couldn’t afford dental care for all of us. But we saw this as God’s providence because when it came time for paying the bills each month, the first check that Dad made out, was always to the Church. Our meals were simple, modest, frugal, as was our lifestyle. And yes, sometimes, this caused embarrassment, sometimes it even caused tears, but to ask anyone of us if we believed that we were poor growing up, we would be shocked. Poor? We were the richest kids in town! Our home was Heaven. We were loved and more than that, we learned about God, and how loved we are by Him, and how He looks after us and protects us. We learned this more from the witness in our home than through our catechism classes.
At Christmas time, it was a challenge not only for our parents, but also for Santa Claus, to find just the right gifts for all of us kids. We would make our wish lists for Santa looking through the Sears catalog, but more often than not, what we would find under the tree would not match what it was we hoped for. But our parents had so instilled in us from a very young age to be grateful, that we never seemed to mind that we got something different than what we asked for, or that our gifts weren’t as extravagant as what our friends would often get. Nor did we mind that our bicycles were not brand new, but re-made. Christmas was a joyous occasion in our house whatever we found under the tree. As those who were born first in the family grew older, they wanted to give gifts as well, but they had to be creative as their gifts could not cost money. One year we came bounding down the stairs into the living room where our Christmas tree stood, and there surrounding our tree, was a perfect line of 14 homemade stuffed frogs, made from left-over scraps of fabric that Mom had; Dad’s being the largest, and each frog slightly smaller than the one beside it, until finally reaching the end, a small baby frog for the youngest in the family. Now, many may wonder what frogs have to do with Christmas and we admit, nothing at all, but love has everything to do with Christmas, and that is why the frogs made the biggest hit, and why this Christmas is one that is so fondly remembered.
Our father died while many of us were still young. Suddenly, one moment he was here, and the next moment gone, tragically killed when a drunk driver crashed head on into his car. Our family was stunned, shocked, and in our happy home, robbed of the core that united it. By this time, the older kids were getting married, graduating from college, starting their careers and for the first time earning their own money. Christmases began to change in our family. Now we could be like everyone else, and we were for a time. One year we had so many gifts piled around our tree that the tree was almost hidden from view. It is funny though, that we can’t remember any of the gifts that were given in those years. The Bible says that if you train a child the way he should go, when he gets older, he won’t depart from it. We did our Christmases just two years like this. The second year we began to feel that this is not what Christmas is about, and we returned to making gifts and simplifying the gifts given. No doubt, Dad had something to do with that inspiration, being up in Heaven, and seeing for himself, the King of Kings lying in a manger.
When the visionary Marija came and stayed with our founder and his family for the first time in 1988, she spent her first Christmas away from home. She couldn’t travel because she was recuperating from the operation in which she donated one of her kidneys to her brother and the operation took place in a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Our Lady had promised two years before that conversion would take place here, and as God wed a human situation of a census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in order to fulfill the prophecy of the Savior being born there, so too Our Lady used a kidney transplant to put Marija here for three months, which, in turn, began the start of great conversions here. In fact, Our Lady said in Her first apparition in the Field,
Though Medjugorje has changed dramatically over the past fifteen years, back in 1988, it still was somewhat primitive. In the early years of the apparitions, in the early 1980’s, some still had horse and wagon as their mode of transportation, some still had no indoor plumbing, and ate what they grew in their gardens. They were extremely poor people. So it is understandable that when Marija walked out of her room on Christmas morning in 1988, she was shocked to see all the gifts under the tree. She exclaimed, “What is all this for? It is Jesus’ birthday!”
We live in a world of plenty, and yet most are never satisfied. Many go shopping just to go shopping, not because there is a need. And because most have what they need, they have lost the appreciation of giving and receiving a gift. Many expect to get, and if they do not get what they expect, they are disappointed and dissatisfied. The day after Christmas, every store in every city has hired extra staff to handle all the returned gifts that people received under their tree. “I already have one of these. I don’t need this. This is not my color. I saw something I liked better last week.”
When our community first began, we were praying about many things in regard to the upbringing of our children. You can’t live in the world today and not be exposed and influenced by consumerism. We wanted to teach a contrary spirit to our children and Christmas was as good a time as any to begin to reverse the ways of the world. We prayed for inspiration. It came through Santa Claus. On Christmas morning in 1996, all the children awoke in their homes only to find a pile of lumber in their living rooms by the Christmas tree. On each stack of lumber, in each home was a riddle to guess what the gift was that Santa had left. Instructions were given to meet across the street at St. Joseph’s Shop at a certain time that morning. One by one the families arrived, each with their own riddle in hand. Walking into St. Joseph’s shop, we found a letter from Santa Claus. This letter with all the riddles helped the children discover what their gift was.
Are you quiet and still and ready to hear
The gift I’ve been planning for most all of this year?
I’ve been studying and watching you all with much care
I travel the earth but what I see here is rare.
Christmas to many is no longer a feast
To celebrate Jesus, to live in His peace.
Instead, it’s “How many presents are under the tree?”
And “Why did you get more presents than me?”
I’ve given you a gift that is expensive and rare
It’s the best I could find; it’s the best anywhere.
But the worth of the present is much more than the cost
Because with it I want you to find what the world lost.
Happiness comes from very simple things
Like carving a horse or an angel with wings
Shaped by hands that had only the will
But over the years grew surer with skill.
There is much you can learn in a carpenter’s chair
To be patient and wise and to work with great care.
To mold as you’re molded by the Carpenter above
With firmness, and kindness, with cheer and with love.
So before your fathers rummage through the plans that are here
And the mothers start planning for the meal to prepare
Stop one and stop all for a moment of thanksgiving
For the life you’ve been given, for the dreams you are living.
And may this peace that the world once knew
Return through your hands and the work that you do
And at those moments when your hearts seem to pause
Remember your dear ol’friend —-
The gift that Santa had brought this year was a workshop that all the fathers and single consecrated men had to spend their rest time building over the Christmas season, before we returned to our mission work in mid-January. Everyday, the moms and single consecrated women prepared a meal and we would eat in the midst of hammers and nails, lumber and workhorses, and finally, after two weeks of putting together the plans Santa left, it was completed. All the children had their own station, art supplies and tools. What did they build in their workshop? Most all of their energies were put into making gifts for everyone in the community. Each year, two weeks before Christmas, the lights lit even in the wee hours of the morning, hammering and sawing can be heard as the children, and now even the adults, create gifts of beauty and love out of pieces of wood that were destined to the scrap bin. They take clay and mold it into cups, plates, vases, etc. They paint and glaze pieces of pottery. We know Santa is close to the heart of Jesus, because this workshop was truly an inspiration from Heaven as it has taught us all that the best gifts are gifts from the heart, that it truly is more blessed to give than receive, and there is deep joy and satisfaction in cooperating with the creative Spirit of God Who always moves us towards doing for others rather than doing for ourselves.
The Community of Caritas gathers with others across the land December 11 for a beautiful evening of Christmas in the Field. Many have said that they had never truly experienced Christmas until being present for Christmas in the Field, which takes place during the December 8-12 retreat every year.
Our Lady taught us how we are to receive gifts as well. In August of 1996, as a community we desired to pray a special novena for the visionaries, villagers, and the village of Medjugorje. The summer of 1996 was when we opened the Mission House in Medjugorje and the first time we had community members in Medjugorje almost year round. We felt Our Lady desired us to be in prayer for Medjugorje. We happened to have the grace to present this novena directly to Our Lady in an apparition through the visionary, Vicka. Our Lady gave us a private message for our community in this apparition. She said on August 26, 1996:
What a gracious response to a gift. She tells us “whatever” it is that you give Her, She regards it as dear to Her heart, no matter how big, no matter how small, as long as it comes from the heart.
For years, Our Lady has been calling us to become Her little children. In the Christmas song, the Little Drummer Boy, the little shepherd was in great sorrow because he had nothing to give the newborn King. And yet, his “desire” was so great to give a gift, that he gave the only thing he knew to give: he played his drum for the Christ Child. The story touches us not because the gift that was given had any special worth, especially when compared to the great material gifts that were already laid by the manger by distinguished personages. Rather, the story touches us because of the love that is poured out of a child’s simple and pure heart. The gift was not the drum, not the song, but his “desire.” And love responded to that gift turning a poor shepherd boy into a boy with the greatest treasure. God, Himself, became his friend.
Stuffed frogs, wooden drums, carpenter tools…no, they don’t have much to do with Christmas…but love has everything to do with it, and whatever it is that we do with the heart, it is all precious to the One through whom Love came into the world.
All I want is to hold you forever
All I need is you more everyday
You saved my heart from being broken a part
You gave your love away
And I’m thankful everyday
For the Gift
Dearest Mother, Merry Christmas!