I was raised by a mother who understood love best in giving and receiving gifts. Each treasure was meticulously chosen, prepared, and, at the perfect time, presented as a satin ribbon-crowned objet d’art. She did this to demonstrate to that person that they were prized above any sacrifice it took to bring the gift to them. Indeed, to receive a gift from my mother was a special thing, and I still remember the radiant look on her face as she waited for me to unwrap that which she had given so generously. To her, giving a gift meant you had thought about that person and what would really make them happy. She was just as joyful in receiving, exclaiming how lovely and thoughtful the giver was after carefully unwrapping their gift so as not to tear the paper even the slightest bit.
Now that I am grown and a mother myself, I appreciate my mother’s generosity even more. I take every opportunity to bless my children with gifts, not because they have earned them, but because I love them and it makes me happy to see them smile. I want to share every good and wonderful thing with my little ones. If human parents in their fallen state derive such pleasure from giving to their children, how much more does our Heavenly Father delight in the gifts He offers to us?
Recently, I received a beautiful gift in God’s perfect timing – a son. My fourth child was born at home on a quiet Saturday afternoon after an intense two-and-a-half hour labor. He was immediately welcomed by three awestruck siblings who rejoiced over the arrival of their new playmate. This little man was showered with gifts from the beginning – he had his own bed, his own blankets and toys, and his own clothes neatly hung and folded in the room he would share with his brother. Every person in the family had sacrificed and contributed in preparing a place for him. I had endured the discomforts of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth in order to give this child the best birth possible and the most peaceful start in life. All of this we did because we loved him. It was our gift to him. For two blissful hours, we all basked in the joy of this new life, this blessed gift from God.
And then, he got sick.
He was not breathing right. As we rushed to the hospital, the midwife in the back seat holding oxygen to my baby’s face, I did the only three things I could think of: I prayed for God to heal my son, I asked my friends to storm Heaven on his behalf, and I called a priest. If you are a person of faith, you will understand why I did the first two, but perhaps not the third, unless, of course, you are Catholic. My son was ill, and as his mother, I wanted him to have everything that is good. I wanted him to have the best, and the best that I could give was a share in the promise of eternal life with God.
When God established the covenant with Abraham, He created a family. For two thousand years, circumcision served as the sign of their familial bond. The promises given to faithful Abraham were extended to his children. So it was in the early Church, which took Jesus at His word and “let the little children come” and did not hinder them. It was understood that the Kingdom belonged to them as well as to adults, not because of their faith, but because of their parents’ faith. Entire households were baptized based on the faith of one member. My husband and I are Christians. We know this because we know we were baptized. Our parents stood up for us and vowed to reject Satan and all his works and empty promises. To be a Christian means to have faith in Christ, to believe His promises. Jesus’ promises are not empty, but full of life. He is the one who baptizes through the minister of baptism. Baptism is not about what we do for Christ, but what He does for us. It is His gift to us, given freely. It cannot be earned, only accepted. I accepted it for my child.
I have friends and even family who do not understand my pain in those hours I waited for my child to be baptized. Yes, the hospital staff had to make sure he was “stable” and I wanted that, but I was desperate for my son to receive the Holy Spirit. I could not rest until he was claimed for Christ and given our family name. Just as earthly fathers bestow their names upon their children, so Our Heavenly Father gives us His name as we are claimed for Him. Once the water was poured over his head, grace poured into his soul, and the Name spoken over him, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” God gave me another lovely gift: peace. My child was in God’s hands and I would praise Him no matter the outcome.
My son survived. We brought him home almost one week from the day he joined our family and God’s family, the Church. The graces he received at his baptism flowed not only into him, but into his parents and godparents, turning all of our hearts even more toward Our Heavenly Father. God really is a loving Father. He delights in the gifts He gives us. What a beautiful gift we have in His Church and in the Sacraments, those “outward signs of inward grace.” A sign points beyond itself, and so do the sacraments point beyond us, beyond this life to the next. They help us not only to glimpse Heaven, but to have a piece of it here on Earth. My mother taught me how to receive a gift joyfully. I will teach my children to accept God’s gifts in the same manner: with happy hearts.