To be Catholic, we are often told, is to live in tension. We are a “both/and” religion, comprised both of the eternal reality of our salvation, and the fleshy immediacy of Christ crucified. We are the pomp and majesty of the Organ and Choir, and the humbling sensation of accidentally sitting in the creakiest pew after a particularly stressful confession.
One of the central tensions of our lives as Catholics is that we are called both to receive everything as a gift and to give everything away. Now, there areas in which this doesn’t seem to be a contradiction. Certainly it is easy to see how a disposition of gratitude toward material gifts would lead us to generosity. After all, how can a person who feels they have been gifted with everything hold on jealously to possessions, food, or money? It would be absurd. Similarly, we understand intuitively that love has a sort of cyclical flow, as exemplified by the relationship of the Trinity. We know, or we are told, that we are given grace and love in order to give them away, to distribute the gospel as freely as we receive it.
This is much more difficult, though, for other kinds of gifts, especially one of the most important gifts we receive as Children of God.
This gift, of course, is the people we encounter in daily life.
Now, on this front, I am particularly bad at both receiving and giving. I would wager that you, dear reader, are better than I, but it’s worth examining nonetheless.
On the first hand, we have to consider how we can receive people as gifts. As mentioned before, I am terrible at this practice, but I am fortunate to have friends who exemplify it. For example, while I am easily frustrated by people needing me while I am working, or disrupting my plans for the day, my friend Rachel will not only stop what she’s doing and receive countless interrupting students “as you would receive Christ” but she gives them full and undivided attention, thanks them for their interruption, and checks back in on the conversation the next time she sees them. This radical availability and gratitude makes an impression on those of us who frequent the Student Center, as evidenced by the fact that anyone who attempts an impression of Rachel is sure to say the phrase “what a gift!”. Viewing others as a gift means that we treat them with reverence and dignity, and give thanks to God that we “never interact with a mere mortal”, as C.S. Lewis says.
So we understand, somewhat, how we are to receive people. The question then becomes, how are we to give them away if they, too, are a gift?
The answer to that question lies somewhat in the first. If we recognize that the people we know are not only gifts, but immortal beings, that clarifies how we are to give them away.
No matter our vocation in life, as Priests, Religious, married people, or simply as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, we have been given the gift and responsibility of caring for souls. This is obvious in the lives of Priests and Religious. Their spiritual father-and-motherhood often involves hands-on care for souls. The same goes for spouses, whose responsibilities clearly include spiritual care for each other and whatever children with whom they may be blessed. It’s less obvious for those of us without those clear commitments, but St. Paul is a helpful guide, when he tells us that while “the married man is concerned with pleasing (and caring for) his wife” and vice versa, the single are not tied down in the same way.
This doesn’t diminish the number of people we are called to care for, though. In fact, it expands it. Our vocation is to love all the people with whom we come into contact, in the best way that we can.
This, finally, brings us to how we can “give away” the gifts we receive in the form of people.
If we take it to be true that God gives us everything so that we can return it to him, then the same must be true for the gift of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. If God gave us souls to care for, we are to give them back to him. All our efforts, our work, our play, our chance encounters, are given to us as opportunities to give God the gift of souls. We must pray, then, that we can say to God, as Christ does, that “I have lost none of the ones you have given me”. Our prayer is that we make the most of the gifts God has given us, by giving them generously back to Him.
Andy Brandt is a Staff Editor, Producer, and General Ne’er-do-well at Konza Catholic. You can find his writing on Catholicism, Justice, and Politics here.