One of my favorite Christmas tales is O’Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi.” It tells of a young married couple struggling to get by economically who sell their most precious possessions in order to buy a Christmas gift for the other.
As O’Henry recounts, they “most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But . . . of all who give gifts, these two were the wisest. . . . They are the magi.”
Standing in solidarity
Unfortunately, the economic plight that faced O’Henry’s two young people will undoubtedly be the same reality for many of our fellow Americans this holiday season.
Poverty, unemployment, hunger, isolation and domestic abuse touch many individuals and families in these very difficult times. And the looming so-called “fiscal cliff” threatens to make a bad situation far worse.
Mothers and fathers struggling to find work wonder how they will provide for their children. Others have to work two or three jobs to get by. Some have lost their home or live in fear of that happening. Single parents bear these burdens alone.
In addition, more and more families must care for an elderly parent or relative that adds to their responsibilities. This situation fosters a sense of powerlessness among those afflicted which can lead to a condition of spiritual dejection and despair, wiping away any feeling of hope or purpose for life.
As disciples of the Lord Jesus, we want to stand in solidarity with those who are so adversely affected. We ask what we can do to help restore hope to those in poverty, to assist the unemployed or the working poor, to build up the common good.
Our Catholic social teaching insists that economic structures and systems ought to be at the service of the human person, not the other way around. The economy should defend and uphold the dignity of individuals, marriages and families.
In point of fact, a primary indicator of the health of a given society is the stability of family life and the fidelity of strong marriages between one man and one woman. Poor economic conditions are definitely a threat to social well-being. And the growing disparity between the wealthiest and the poorest strata of society is a genuine source of concern.
Being good stewards
In his encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict XVI writes, “if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests” (no. 28). Sin works against our best desires and obscures the capacity to make good judgments.
The virtues of justice, temperance, prudence and fortitude must be inculcated in the hearts and attitudes of employers and employees alike. We are all called to be effective stewards of life’s resources, recognizing that the needs of the one who is suffering is really greater than my own.
In the same document quoted above, Pope Benedict states, “the Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word” (no. 22).
Thus, as we approach the great feast of Christmas wherein the Divine Son took on the form of a slave (see Philippians 2:7), I invite parishes and individual Catholics to reconsider what we are doing to address the well-being of those who are suffering economically in these difficult times and to redouble our efforts and energy to extend a helping hand.
Any act of kindness becomes an act of charity if it is informed by a sacrificial love in imitation of Jesus Christ.
So let us be wise Magi this Christmas, giving the kind of gifts that build up the common good.
God bless you! Merry Christmas!