“God loves a cheerful giver,” the Apostle reminds us, and so, we might observe, does every person made in His image. Who wants a guest at their birthday party to grudgingly hand over a gift, sighing under the weight of all the stress of shopping for it? Thankfully, there are few such guests. Instead, the great anticipation of the recipient’s joy at seeing the gift often makes us impatient to see it opened.
The beauty of gifts given freely to friends is that they are given completely unconditionally; we don’t consider for a moment whether a friend deserves a birthday present, or whether they will repay it. Our goal is only to find the perfect gift. When we receive gifts, we can hardly help but be happy.
If by chance, the shirt is the wrong size or color, or we’ve already read that book, we always know that it’s the thought that counts; it’s the friendship and love that accompanies the gift that we really celebrate. In the same way, St. Vincent teaches, “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205] It is not the gift, but the giving that matters.
We bring gifts to each neighbor we visit, and giving them unconditionally, and never “taking the attitude that …recipients have to prove that they deserve it.” [Manual, Ch 2] Those gifts might include help with a bill, or food, or rent, or “any form of help that alleviates suffering or deprivation and promotes human dignity and personal integrity in all their dimensions.” [Rule, Part I, 1.3]
Most importantly, though, we “never forget that giving love, talents and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Part I, 3.14] What makes a birthday gift so special is the thought and care and love that goes into finding it, wrapping it, and giving it. What makes our gift of time and self to the neighbor so special is thought and care and love that goes into answering their calls, visiting them cheerfully, and always helping in the best way that we can.
When we knock on the neighbor’s door it should be with the same joyful anticipation with which we arrive at a party, with gift in hand. Every home visit is an opportunity to remind the neighbor that God has not abandoned them; to bring them the gift of love – the love of God.
Home visits should never be approached as a chore. They are a special grace from God, given to us so that we might see Him, serve Him, and make ourselves the instruments of His boundless love. It is more blessed to give than to receive.
“Why,” St. Louise asked, “are our souls not in a continuous state of joy and happiness?” [SWLM, A.14B]