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Givers and gifts

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St. Francis de Sales posed the question this way: Do you seek the consolations of God, or the God of consolations? To be honest, I'm not sure if my answer falls on the right side of that question even 51 percent of the time. I want what God alone can give. And while I hope that underneath those wants lies a deeper desire for God himself, the fact is I'm grateful because I have things to be grateful for.

The giver matters more than the gift. To make that point with Confirmation students, I like to use a rather jarring illustration. Suppose your doorbell rings. When you answer it, a local florist delivery truck driver hands you a large long box tied with an enormous bow. Surprised, you take the box into the house and open it. Inside are two dozen of the most beautiful and fragrant roses you have ever seen. They're even your favorite color. You have no idea who sent you roses -- or why. It isn't your birthday or any other special occasion. Gently removing each stem from the box, you carefully arrange the blossoms in the biggest vase you own. At the very bottom of the box, you find a small envelope. When you open it you are stunned by what you read: "With all my love, Osama bin Laden."

It's amazing how ugly the most lovely gift can become when it is given by a less-than-lovely giver. But any mother will tell you that the inverse is also true. Pre-school finger paintings and third grade Mothers' Day gifts, for example, somehow manage to be as stunningly beautiful as the children who give them are. That, by the way, is how God receives whatever we give him.

It shouldn't surprise us that God resolves the giver versus gift dilemma in a way few of us could anticipate or imagine: Eucharist. In Holy Eucharist, the Giver and the gift are one. There is no tension or competing claim. Jesus is both priest and sacrifice. He does the offering and he is the one who is offered.

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