Dear Friends in Christ:
Next Sunday we will again have our annual Gift Giving Sunday! I have to admit that from the time I was assigned here to St. John Vianney parish as a seminarian in the ‘70s and ‘80s there was a little part of me that cringed at this tradition. It has been funny to see the same reaction among the young assistants over the years. Liturgical idealism is a bi-product of seminary training! The issue is that Gaudete Sunday (Rejoice Sunday) is such a wonderful and beautiful liturgical feast and we supplant it by our own local custom and tradition. That being stated, I have to admit that Gift Giving Sunday is simply wonderful in so many ways! For those who are new and maybe unfamiliar with this parish tradition, Gift Giving Sunday is when all of the parishioners will give the homily at Mass! Don’t worry, you don’t have to say anything. Actions speak louder than words. All parishioners are asked to bring a wrapped present for a needy child. At the time of the homily, YOU, the homilists for the day, will come forward and approach the altar to give your sermon. Carrying your wrapped gift for another, you will then give it away! At that moment, what you bought at the store will no longer be just a toy or a stuffed animal, it will become a gift of love, a gift in thanksgiving and a gift of caring! A gift is never fully and completely a gift until it is given away! Your gift will be placed before the altar and, by the end of the day on Sunday, the altar will be buried behind a mountain of wrapped Christmas gifts. That evening after our last Mass, a caravan of trucks and an army of volunteers will sort the gifts and they will be distributed to a number of parishes and local charities to be given to families who otherwise may not be able to provide Christmas gifts for their children. A cause to rejoice!
One of the fascinating things about Gift Giving Sunday is that it is very common for families to take photos of their children in front of all the gifts. It is a sight to behold. The enormous number of gifts speaks so eloquently of our parish and the generosity and caring of our parishioners. Perhaps one of my favorite Gift Giving Sundays was in 2017. That was the year Hurricane Harvey hit and so many of our parishioners lost their homes to the flood waters. I was immensely touched and moved that people who only a few months before had lost everything – their homes, their cars and all of their belongings – came back to SJV so that they could give a gift and participate in this wonderful event. Some of the people had to relocate and had moved away from the parish but they came back for Gift Giving Sunday. Others were living in apartments or with friends or relatives and struggling themselves, but they too came back. Gift Giving Sunday is a gift in more ways than one. This year I will remember John Carey and his wife, Jean. The Carey’s were New Yorkers through and through. Like so many others they migrated to Houston in one of the oil booms. I used to tease them that they went back to New York each year to work on their accents! In retirement, Jean volunteered in Joseph’s Coat “to clothe the poor people” as she said. Jean had a great heart and love for the poor. She became upset when anything was priced more than 25 cents! She was not shy about letting me know of her displeasure either! John was everywhere and at everything! He was a proud veteran and a kind soul. He was always faithful in attending daily Mass and spent many hours in the Adoration Chapel praying before our Lord. Every year on Gift Giving Sunday, John and Jean would sit right up front and bring forward large plastic trash bags filled with Teddy Bears and stuffed animals. All year long, they would shop around, buying and collecting these toys so they could give them away on Gift Giving Sunday. After Jean passed away, John kept the tradition. John passed away a few weeks ago and will be watching Gift Giving Sunday from a different vantage point this year. A cause to rejoice!
In reality, every Sunday is a Gift Giving Sunday, in fact, every day is a Gift Giving Day. The homily that we give is the same, it is the giving of ourselves as a gift to God. In every Mass, we place our wants and cares, our thanks and love, before the altar. We offer to God our hearts and He in turn give us the gift of His Son. He gives us His love and grace and the gift of eternal life. A cause to rejoice.
In pace Christi,