Too often, Catholicism is characterized solely by its dogmatic teachings. We use those teachings to formulate a checklist by which we judge whether or not people or various projects and institutions are truly “Catholic.” To be sure, as she was founded by Christ himself and is guided by the Holy Spirit through the Pope and our bishops, the Church is the proper authority who establishes such dogmatic teachings and without such teachings there’s really no such thing as a Church or a faith of any kind. That being said, the teachings of the Church are in no way intended to beat us into a kind of blind submission. Rather, they are there to give us the lenses through which we can see the world as it truly is and live our lives in all of the rich fullness God intends. In other words, the truths we assent to as Catholics are intended to set us free to experience the total gift that is all of creation, our lives, and God’s grace. The question is though: do we really believe?
The Problem With Gifts
The problem with constant free gifts (or, more precisely, the problem with us receiving constant free gifts), is that we very quickly take them for granted. If someone brings you an unexpected coffee or donut (or ideally both), you would most likely respond with a heartfelt “thank you.” If they started bringing you coffee everyday, over time you might still say “thank you,” but more than likely it will simply be out of habit or social convention than sincere gratitude. The reality is that when things become routine and expected we forget the meaning and joy of the gift.
All is Gift
When we say “all is gift,” we mean literally everything is a gift. When God spoke the universe into existence, he created it as a gift for man (and very kindly even prepared a garden for man to live in). His speaking all of existence into being means that His Word reverberates, however subtly, throughout creation directing us back to Him so that we can know and love Him (a gift). He sent Christ to redeem us and walk among us so that we can know and love Him more perfectly (a gift). Christ instituted the Church and the Sacraments so that we would never be without a guide or without guaranteed recourse to God’s grace (a gift). Not a single one of us chose our lives or our gifts and talents or the circumstances into which we were born. Rather, from all eternity God knew each of us and the intended role we are to play in His plan for the redemption of all mankind (a gift). These are the gifts we receive from God every day of our lives. Every breath of fresh air we take, every time we receive Christ Himself in the Eucharist, every joy or suffering in our lives, all is from God and all of it we so easily take for granted.
The Meaning of the Gift
So why does God give us all of these gifts? Because He is a God of love who wants us to be united with Him for eternity. God does not need creation, He does not need humans. He creates out of superfluous love so that we can share in His life. Maybe that seems too simple, but that is the joy of the gift: it simply comes down to love. God loved us, and so He created the entire universe. God loved us, and so He sent His only son to redeem us. God loved us, and so He instituted a Church to guide us. God loved us, and so He instituted the Sacraments to sanctify and strengthen us with His grace. This is what we say we believe as Catholics. This is what every dogmatic teaching of the Church is intended to unveil to us. This is why our faith is not simply a nice idea among many, but a vision of the entire fabric of reality rooted in love and gift.
Believe and Recapture the Joy
Whether it’s going to mass week after week, or walking through the same park everyday, or even seeing your family or friends everyday, we so quickly forget what we believe. We lose the vision of our faith. We stop receiving gifts as gifts and instead they become part of the mundane rhythm of our lives. We lose the profound meaning of moments, persons, and even the Sacraments as encounters with God’s love. As a result, we lose the unique joy of those unexpected and totally free gifts. It is high time to recapture that joy, and it starts with reaffirming what we believe and striving to see the world as we believe. When we see everything as an undeserved, free gift given out of love it puts us in a position of humble gratitude and opens us to the thrill of having our fundamental dignity affirmed in unexpected and surprising ways. In short, it puts us in a position to experience the joy of knowing that we are loved, we are intended, and that God is always seeking us out to draw us to Himself. The Church’s mission is to form us through her teaching so that we may have this vision. May we all strive to humbly receive that teaching, believe, and be joyful.