Christmas is here: a time of gifts and gratitude. At Christmas, people who love each other give gifts to one another and appreciate those received. Gratitude, an attitude that should continue throughout the year, was prolonged by Saint Louise de Marillac, who frequently ends her letters with the sentence: very grateful daughter or servant. Sometimes, her gratitude was a social formula of education, but most of the time it was sincere gratitude to the priests or the Vincentian missionaries for the ministries that they did with the Daughters of Charity or to the directors of the establishments in which the Sisters served. It was also frequent that she would be grateful for a gift that they gave to her, to her son, to the Sisters, to Saint Vincent de Paul or to the poor. And when she did not know to whom to thank it, she thanked Divine Providence: “It is your prayers, dear Sisters, that attract all these favors from the goodness of God, so be very grateful.” “Father, may God I have enough virtue and love to thank the care that Divine Providence takes from us” (c 160, 161). Her feelings were touched during the revolts of the Frondes, when the soldiers lodged in the houses of the Sisters and respected them. Excited, she asks Father Portail to help him thank God: “I imagine that your charity will have pity us in these times of so much calamity in Paris. I ask you to help us to be grateful to our good God for the graces he has given to the whole Company, both for having been preserved from hunger and for other dangers in the cities and in the villages” (c.287).
During Christmas, as the pastors that we place at the cribs and who poetized in his own way St. Francis of Assisi, we also go to God not to ask him to give us things, but because he has given us a Child who is God born in Bethlehem at Christmas and gives us the assurance of not being alone.
This Christmas we will receive gifts and Christmas greeting cards. We are thrilled to feel that they love us, that many people care, and we thank them. The gift indicates love, and gratitude also implies love. The important thing is not the gift received, but the love that manifests. The sentence “I thank you for the love you give me” is frequent in the letters of Saint Louise. The gratitude expressed to Sr. Elisabeth Hellot who has taken care of her son Michael, who was ill while the saint was founding in Nantes, is endearing: “Even though you were the one who worked with him, I am grateful to all our sisters for having labored for my son, and I thank them wholeheartedly for their dear affection, that they could not have demonstrated on a more meaningful occasion” (L.152). When Saint Louise writes to her friend Sister Joulianne Loret that sentence: “I thank you with all my heart for your loving concern” (L.311), she is indicating that gratitude is the beginning of friendship. If there is no mutual love of friends it is easy to see, in the gift, a manipulation or flattery.
If this Christmas we do not receive gratitude for the gift we make, perhaps it is because we have not known how to manifest the love with which we give it. If the other person does not recognize my affection for her in the gift I give her, there is no feeling of gratitude in her heart. Only when she recognizes that I wanted to please her with a gift because I love her, will she thank me. It must be borne in mind that in French — the language in which Saint Louise writes — to be thankful is said être reconnaissant [to be recognized] and gratitude is expressed by the word reconnaissance [recognition].
Sometimes we need a minimum of humility to accept some gifts that indicate the situation in which we find ourselves. Saint Louise expresses it with the sentence “I humbly thank you,” without blushing for expressing your shortcomings: “Your grapes are beautiful, you know I have no teeth and I can not eat the small ones, so I thank you,” “I thank you for your beautiful and exquisite figs that have come very close to our neighborhood,” “we thank you with all our hearts for the beautiful and excellent thread that you have sent us, you already knew that we hardly had,” “I thank you from the heart, on behalf of the entire Community, for the beautiful fish you have sent us” (L 356 bis, 413, 440, 515).
Humility of Christmas in which we celebrate the birth of God as a weak, weeping child, whose mother has to clean, breastfeed and care. For lack of humility you can accept the gift with suspicion, disappointed by other experiences, or because they are underestimated and think that they can not be the object of a gift, that no one has ever set them to love them. Others, reject gratitude, doubting the love in who gives it or considering a right that is given. These people at Christmas will not feel the excitement of thanking for a gift. It is not worth anonymous charity, because Christmas is the holiday in which everyone expects to be personally manifested the affection you have.
The gratitude expresses solidarity
When we make a gift this Christmas or we appreciate it, we express solidarity among humans. The opposite is to live in a dehumanized society. There are situations in which solidarity is mandatory, as in the case of a family that does not have to eat. But it is also obliged to thank it. Excited, Saint Louise notes this, when she writes: “Be very grateful for the care the have taken with you, and try to make up for it with the service you have for the poor” (L 226).
There are cases during the year where we give thanks for a reason for civic education. But not at Christmas. In a social world where everyone looks for their own good and it is common to grow carefree of others and where gifts are only made among families, friends and social or political groups, thanking even for courtesy gives to life the human sense that there is still love.
The gratitude in forgiveness
Christmas is a surprising situation because that Child is born in spite of our sins and to forgive them. We have no right to demand the gift of forgiveness, he gives it with total freedom. We can only demand clemency. And it has maximum importance, because forgiveness gives meaning to our existence and takes away from us the idea that life is absurd. Christmas invites us to forgive, not as a formula of courtesy, but with sincerity and as the culmination of the commandment of love, decreed in the prayer of the Lord’s Prayer and in the forgiveness that Jesus gives on the cross to those who kill him.