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Spirituality of the Readings
December 25, 2019
John Foley, SJ

Giving and Receiving

Have you ever worried about the gifts you give for Christmas? Not the gifts themselves but whether they will please the ones who receive them?

For instance, what if the giftee forces a courtesy smile and says, “Oh how nice,” or something similar? What if, later in the year, by accident, waiting for that person to answer the door which you have just knocked on, you glimpse through a window the family rushing to bring your gift up from the basement and hang it up in the living room?


My job was to open my heart and give. I let them take care of receiving it.

I used to second-guess myself on every gift I shopped for. Look there, I would say, that is the perfect gift for this person, just right! But wait a minute, they don’t have a fireplace mantle to sit it on. Or, will it go with their décor? Or does he or she even like that kind of thing. Maybe I will look like a fool. Or, or, or, or.

That’s normal, isn’t it?

But agonizing.

A great friend of mine from South Africa helped me out with this dilemma. Kolile was his name (Ko-lee-leh, pronounced with a click instead of the beginning “K”*), and he told me, “You are trying to do someone else’s job. Do your own. Your task is to give the gift. Let them take care of receiving it.”

He gave two examples. In Africa the women at the parish work for many, many days preparing a feast. All the food is beautiful, tasty, and set out perfectly. At last, when the day arrives, the doors open, and minutes later the whole presentation looks like plowed earth—the food picked over, the people happy but oblivious. This does not bother the women, he said. It is up to the people to receive it in whatever way seems right to them. The women’s part of the exchange is to make the gift ready, and they love doing it.

Then he said, in his gruff but gracious way, that in his part of Africa, the custom is to bring a present to the person you are visiting. He and others walked the long journey to visit his father, who happened to love roast beef. Kolile brought along a big chunk of roast beef and smacked it on the table when they got there. His father said, oh no, thank you, I do not like that any more.

Kolile was not bothered. “I did my part,” he said, “and my father did his.” All was well.

So I began a change in my shopping habits. I began to choose gifts that just felt right for each person on my Christmas list. I did not worry, worry whether it would please them, I let the image of the person fill my mind and when I saw something that matched my feel for them, I bought it. Without worry. Every gift did actually delight the one who received it, but that isn’t the point. My job was to open my heart and give. I let them take care of receiving it.

Maybe this is what God does at Christmas. So many people do say “No thanks” to the Christ child. But the babe is not born in order to get accepted. He is the spilling over of God’s immense love for us. When God lets each of us into his soul, he senses that the baby Jesus is the perfect Christmas gift.

So he gives it.

John Foley, SJ
 * Kolile kept making me pronounce his name correctly. I resisted. “Why do I have to insert that click on the first syllable when everybody else just says 'ko'?” “Because you can,” he said.

God rest his soul.

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go