by Father Mark Goldasich
Don’t you just hate it when you can’t get an image out of your head? It’s gotten so bad that I can’t even open my sock drawer without practically breaking into tears.
I blame Children International for this. This is a child sponsorship organization, located in Kansas City, Mo., that I’ve supported for many years. In October, it sent out a letter encouraging sponsors to consider giving an extra contribution for Christmas.
The appeal spoke about a little girl in the Philippines named Leslie Mae. Here’s what she had to say: “I thought if I would do good enough all year around, Santa would grant my wishes. And so every Christmas I’d wake up only to find the same empty sock I put up. I finally understood that Santa wasn’t for real. And life isn’t easy.”
Now, every time I see a sock, I can’t help but think about this poor little girl. I never experienced what she did. In fact, not only were there plenty of presents waiting for me under the tree each year on Christmas Day, but — as a good little Croatian boy — I even got gifts on Dec. 6 from St. Nicholas.
I never realized how blessed I was. I took it all in stride, believing that every kid in the world felt like I did and had plenty of gifts to open on Christmas.
Leslie Mae and John, a little boy that I sponsor in the Philippines, remind me that it isn’t that way at all. And it’s not just people in foreign lands who suffer. Given the economic hardships of our own country, there are plenty right here who are struggling.
By bringing this up, I don’t intend to make people feel guilty or to condemn holiday shoppers. It’s wonderful to give presents. My suggestion, though, is to reorder the shopping list a bit. Instead of donating what’s “left over” in your holiday budget to the poor (after all the gifts for family and friends are purchased), why not start with that donation?
During these days, many people lament a loss of the “Christmas spirit.” Responding to those in need is a surefire guarantee to finding that true spirit. While exchanging gifts with family and friends is nice and fun, giving something to those who cannot return the favor is even better. It’s a lesson and lifestyle that Jesus taught so well.
So, how can you reach out to others? On the next page, Jan Lewis of Catholic Charities suggests some practical ways, and Holiday Shop, mentioned on page 10, presents another opportunity.
If you regularly attend “The Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Carol,” why not give it a pass this year and instead donate your tickets to a family who has never had the opportunity to see these shows. Throw in a gift card for a meal out as well.
One charitable organization ships shoe boxes to needy boys and girls overseas. Inside those boxes are small toys, books, hygiene items, a T-shirt or school supplies. Assembling some of these boxes for distribution locally might be a wonderful Advent activity.
How about offering to do Christmas shopping for an elderly or disabled person, sparing them the “pain” of standing in long lines or fighting inclement weather?
Why not pick up an extra box of Christmas cards and give it to someone on a fixed income to mail to family and friends. Offer to help write or address the cards. And don’t forget to include the stamps.
Some other creative suggestions for the “Christmas journey,” courtesy of “5001 Simple Things to Do for Others (and Yourself!)” from Liguori Press, are the following:
• Randomly give grocery gift cards to people in a grocery store in a less-desirable area of town.
• Gather friends and family, sing Christmas carols to your local firefighters or police officers, and leave them plenty of Christmas cookies. • Buy a Christmas tree for someone who might need one.
• Form a “singles” family dinner for all the singles in your life.
There really is no limit to what we can do to make this a memorable season. Who knows? One of these practices may turn into a Christmas tradition to be repeated and savored for years to come.
Little John in the Philippines will not wake up to an empty sock this Christmas — I’ve seen to that. May we all come to realize that, by caring for the least among us, we’re really stocking up treasure in heaven.