It’s the thought that counts. Usually, that phrase is offered when reflecting on a gift…to underline the fact that the effort, the consideration, the sacrifice that someone makes is the most important part of a gift or offering that we make for someone else. There’s a lot of truth to that. But sometimes that can really be put to the test- on a retreat a few years ago, there was an activity where we asked people to share the worst gift ever given or received” – and they ran the gamut: – An obviously used candle – A pair of custom-made pajamas – which was even worse than that sounded – because they weren’t even made yet. The person opened the gift and it was the fabric and materials for it with the promise that the giver was going to make them for the person – and then never did. – Someone shared how their grandparents had purchased for them at a garage sale a used coloring book where most of the book had been colored in with a green-felt pen. Which brought a lot of laughs, when someone joked “that’s just what every little kid wants” the student explained that it had happened just a year ago on their 18th birthday and that the Grandparents thought it was a good gift since it was Disney related and this kid was going to study animation and design. They still weren’t sure whether their grandparents were punking them or serious.
Is it the thought that counts? Hearing those stories, you might wonder, What kind of thought went into them????
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -July 17, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
Tomorrow is my Mom’s 80th Birthday. One of the great things about my mother is that she often takes the guesswork out of gift-buying. Raising three boys, she knows that we will all be trying to come up with something that will make her happy, that she will enjoy, that she needs, but being men, we’re not always the best at intuiting what those things can be. This past Christmas when I got her a leg massaging thing, she was all excited about it as she opened it but couldn’t tolerate more than 2 minutes of saying it was too painful for her legs. (That’s the short form of the story, she was much more diplomatic about it) So oftentimes months in advance, she will be very clear and direct with us, saying “you know what I really would like for Christmas…” It obviously takes the surprise factor out of it, but knowing we are going to make the effort and spend money on something, she wants to make sure it’s something that she can truly use and appreciate. I used to resist her suggestions (obviously as recently as this last Christmas) and I will still try from time to time to surprise her, but in another sense, I appreciate where she’s coming from. I can be equally as hard to get a gift for. Believe it or not, I have more than my share of crucifixes and rosaries that I don’t really need anymore (and feel bad when I re-gift them myself)
When offering a gift, ultimately it is the thought that counts… but it’s helpful when – the effort, the consideration, and the sacrifice can be focused and directed more intentionally. It’s not uncommon to see advertisements saying “what do you get for the man who has everything” – we could ask, what do you get the God who created everything? In today’s scriptures He gives us some important feedback to reflect on.
The first reading came from the very first book of the Old Testament, Genesis – and we hear this interesting episode with Abraham, one of the patriarchs of the Judeo-Christian faith. At this point in Genesis, God had already encountered Abraham through the words of others, visions Abraham had experienced, and had entered into covenant with the promise that the one thing that Abraham and his wife Sarah wanted most, had not come to fulfillment and seemed impossible in their old age – having a son of their own – would be fulfilled. In today’s reading, God shows up in this somewhat mysterious manner to Abraham. We read “the Lord appeared” (so that’s as a single being) as “three men.” So Christian theologians have seen this as one of the earliest revelations of our One God being a Trinity of Persons, Father- Son and Holy Spirit (I’m sorry, I’m theologically geeking out here – the Catholic nerd part of me as a priest had to point that out). That aside, we can kind of come away with the wrong message as we see Abraham and Sarah extending hospitality and making this meal for these heavenly visitors which concludes with their re-iterating the promised birth of a son to Sarah and Abraham to think that must be because they cooked a good enough meal, they are going to get what they wanted (Especially, for those of us who are Italian, we figure that must be the case). But the reality is this meal comes right after God had renewed the covenant with Abraham. Covenants are what form unrelated people into family and families eat together, so this meal is one of communion and relationship for Abraham with God. This meal was a celebration of the covenant.
The thing, the gift that God wanted was Abraham’s, undivided heart. He wanted his faith and trust. Which He had, which is what they were celebrating with that meal…
Similarly in the Gospel, we hear of another meal being offered for God at the home of Martha and Mary. Oftentimes we’re drawn into this encounter and see this distinction between the two sisters’ actions, see it as examples of contemplative and active roles in the life of faith, and after acknowledging the need, and importance of both, “the active” work of Martha still seems to come in second place. But I read one commentator’s reflection that I had never really considered before. Jesus had already demonstrated he can produce a multitude of bread and fish for thousands of people, did he really need Martha stressing to produce an elaborate meal for Him?
It’s a good question. Because it’s obvious that He loves Martha, He’s grateful for her hard work and He appreciates the “thought” but Jesus who sees and knows our hearts can hear and see that she’s lost sight of why she was doing what she was doing, and in her efforts, consideration, and sacrifice, there’s some jealousy and envy that Mary’s sitting with Jesus in communion and relationship while she’s working. Jesus didn’t come to have some of Martha’s good fish and bread – but simply because He wanted to be with them. That was the gift he desired – simply to be with them. And In fact, He’s the one who’s offering the gift – God wants to spend time, intimately, personally close with them in this most normal of ways – at table with them.
What these scriptures are trying to point out to us is that so often, when it comes to our relationship with God, we can lose perspective. Particularly when it comes to the practice of our faith. People can fall into simply thinking of prayer as trying to make God happy… attending Mass is fulfilling an obligation. Missing the awesome realization that when we enter into prayer, the all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving, God – who created, redeemed, and sanctified us, creator of all things, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who knows every inch of our being more perfect than we could ever hope to – cares for us more than we could ever care for ourselves – this God is waiting for you and me… He is waiting for us to turn away from all that distracts us, all that we busy ourselves with, all that we think is important… That the triune God basically is somewhat in a waiting room, waiting for us to make time for Him? That’s what prayer is. That we turn our hearts, minds, souls, and attention towards Him with faith and trust.
And even more, at this, at Mass, which as Catholics we believe is the most perfect prayer, He speaks to us through this His word, He feeds us with the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, really present in the Eucharist we receive. He makes Himself vulnerable, relatable, and accessible – even more closely than sitting at the table of Martha and Mary.
It’s a good and beautiful thing for us to want to offer a gift to God. But for the God who has created everything, what He wants most – is just us. Yes, it’s the thought that counts. May we put the effort, the consideration, the sacrifice in offering Him what it is He truly desires.
Beautiful, Father Jim. Side note on regifting rosaries and crucifixes: Don’t feel bad about that. The priest who was very influential in my becoming a deacon (he helped vest me at my ordination), gave me a beautiful conch shell for baptisms, that his mother had given him when he was a young priest. It is one of my most prized possessions (still haven’t used it in 10 years because of both the parishes I have served, neither Baptismal Font was/is big enough…). You never know how you will touch someone’s life by a small gift like that.