The Law of the Gift

Growing up, I was number three in a family of six children. I remember when my younger brother wanted to give a gift on the day I turned eight or nine. John was probably five at the time. He ran upstairs to his bedroom and came back with his favorite truck which he held out to me. I wasn’t much interested in trucks and he knew that. In his heart he knew he could give it to me because I would give it back to him! So he didn’t have to lose anything. It was a gesture that he thought would please everyone, but it wasn’t backed up with a willingness to really give up something precious. He was a little guy just learning about giving!

That memory came back to me when I read about Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s commencement speech about “The Law of the Gift.” At his alma mater, The Catholic University of America, the Cardinal talked about the definition of a real gift: it involves a sacrifice by one person for the betterment of another.

The ultimate gift giver is God, of course. He gave us everything, including his Son. And Jesus gave us the greatest gift of all—salvation—purchased for us by His suffering and death. That’s the Law of the Gift—it requires sacrifice. This next weekend is a celebration of such powerful gift giving.

On Friday we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This day is meant to remind us of the greatest gift…Jesus gave his life, his body, his suffering for us. Beginning in 1673, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque had visions of Jesus. Her superiors mocked her when she shared what she had seen. But she continued to be patient and kind. Her vision of the Sacred Heart was a precursor of Divine Mercy. Jesus said to her, “Look at this Heart which has loved men so much, and yet men do not want to love Me in return. Through you, My Divine Heart wishes to spread its love everywhere on earth.”

Then on Saturday we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This celebration clearly corresponds to the Sacred Heart. The hearts of Mary and Jesus are intertwined through love, suffering and sacrifice. These two hearts established the Law of the Gift.

On Sunday, we celebrate Father’s Day. Although this day isn’t a liturgical feast, the Church recognizes and celebrates the love of fathers. The model comes to us from our heavenly Father—who personifies fatherhood as provider, protector and guide. I remember my grandfather who knew the Law of the Gift quite well. He had a young family during the days of the great Depression. It was hard for many men at that time because their ability to provide for their families was threatened. But my grandfather didn’t want anyone to worry. The workers at the railroad where he worked came together and agreed to share their jobs so no one would be laid off. The managers agreed!

Although his income was greatly reduced, my grandfather refused to be a sourpuss. Instead, he sang songs as he walked to the bus stop. He gathered broken toys from around the neighborhood and re-created them so he could give toys to his children and others in need. He kept joy and prayer alive in his house. It’s the Law of the Gift. We are called to sacrifice for others so that they can feel God’s abundant love. That’s what Father’s Day is all about. It is a time to appreciate the ones who have protected, provided and guided us through their examples of love and generosity.

Gift-giving is a kind of sacrifice that isn’t a struggle after all. When the gift is Love, it “keeps on giving” as it spreads from one family member to another and from there it goes out to the rest of the world!

–Judith Costello

Judith Costello is the mother of two kids. She and her family live on a small farm they call “Sagging Acres” in rural New Mexico. Judith writes for national and regional magazines. She is a catechist, artist and a Secular Carmelite