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Mary’s canticle: Helping us to receive with a grateful heart

By H. Richard McCord
Catholic News Service

Like many families, we have happy Christmas memories saved in photos. There is one of our sons at age 6 seated on his first bicycle under the Christmas tree. His head is thrown back with an exuberant smile. We were pleased to be able to give him this “best gift ever” and he was equally delighted to receive it. Such a memory reminds us that Christmas is as much about receiving gratefully as it is about giving generously.
A gift requires a giver and a receiver to be a complete experience. This truth can get lost in the Christmas frenzy of acquiring and checking off items on our list. The commercial message of Christmas focuses attention on what we’re going to give when really it’s asking the bottom-line question: How much are you going to spend? The successful Christmas season always seems to be measured in dollars and cents.
Giving generously, especially to the needy, is a truly blessed act. St. Paul even tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). Giving is more than just a good human action. For a Christian, it’s a participation in the divine activity by which God the Father gives us his son whose unconditional love brings us salvation. At Christmas we rejoice in God’s supreme gift by celebrating the earthly coming of his son. Our Christmas giving is meant to be an act of gratitude acknowledging what and whom God has first given to us.
As important as it is to imitate the divine generosity by knowing how to give, it also is necessary to know how to receive a gift. We can look to Mary as the best example of one who receives.
In St. Luke’s account, Mary responds to the angel’s message that she is to become the mother of Christ. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46).
Mary’s canticle offers a perfect example of how to receive a gift graciously, sincerely and humbly. Realizing what she has been given, Mary expresses gratitude. “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk 1:49).
In this way Mary places the emphasis where it should be, namely, on what God does for us. We receive all that we have and all we will ever need from his generous hand.
To receive a gift at Christmas, no matter how small or simple, with delight and a grateful heart symbolizes our openness to receive all that God gives us.
When we open presents this Christmas might we reclaim some of the simple joy we once had as children when we received that special gift? If so, let this experience open our hearts not only to the gift giver but also to the one who himself is the divine gift.

McCord is the former executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Laity, Marriage,
Family Life and Youth. He is currently a freelance writer and ministry consultant.

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