My Boys as Sign and Gift

The people at Misericordia reveal that God’s gifts to us are unlimited -- Part 3

My boys who live in the Village at Misericordia, in Chicago, are a sign to us all that not one of us has merited anything. How hard it is for us to accept the truth that we have not merited what we see every day and what we think (and are told by modern culture) we have earned: our money, our jobs, our spouses, our children, our analytical ability, our writing and speaking skills, our bodies formed by our workouts and so nicely groomed, our pleasant and charming personalities. As ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has written, “We cannot earn significance for our lives; it is a gift of God.” We each receive God’s gifts.

Consider in this regard several Scriptural passages:

  • John the Baptist said, in referring to Christ Who was baptizing, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven.” (John 3:27)
  • “Everything comes from God; everything exists by his power; and everything is intended for his glory.” (Romans 11:36)
  • “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” (James 1:17)
  • “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

And let me add the Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola:

Take, Lord, receive
All my liberty,
My memory,
My understanding,
My whole will,
All that I have and
all that I possess.
You gave it all to me;
To You, Lord; I return it all.
It is all Yours:
Do with me entirely as You will.
Give me Your love and Your grace:
That is enough for me.

The Village, too, acts as a sign—from the viewpoint of the giver. The good things and the good life that the Village and its staff, volunteers, and benefactors provide to my boys are a sign to us all that all is given as a gift, without regard to the recipient’s merit or ability to use these good things. We do not give simply to earn a return on our investment. To quote Hauerwas again: All people “have significance beyond what they can be for us – our friend, our playmate, our brother,” our employee.

In sum, all is a gift from God. The Village gives to my boys as the Village and its staff, volunteers, and benefactors have been given from God—freely. Like Jesus, the Village lavishly showers gifts on people who do not apparently have the ability truly to appreciate them. The Village makes the meaning of this sentence, cited by philosopher Rev. Robert Johann, S.J., obvious: “What being loved makes being do is precisely be” (Building the Human, 1968).

Seeing the Village from this perspective should cause us to see the human condition in a new light. If none of us has deserved money, intelligence, athletic ability, beauty, or charm, then neither does any of us deserve poverty, illiteracy, blindness, spina bifida, disease, starvation, nakedness, learning disabilities, homelessness. There are no subhuman human beings; there are only subhuman living conditions and man’s inhumanity to man.

What shall we do? Answer: Share our good fortune, our gifts from God, our lives, with others. You respond that your energies are finite. The late Notre Dame professor of theology Rev. James Burtchaell, C.S.C., replies and, on the basis of my three years with my boys, I agree: “Everyone of us has within himself an unbelievable potential for love and for generosity but we do not bring it out very willingly. It has to be torn out of us (Rachel Weeping: The Case Against Abortion, 1984).

You respond that, even though you are willing, there are just limited resources. Burtchaell asks: “Why is it the powerful and affluent and engorged of this world are always the most aware that there is not enough to go around, and that there are so many people who make poor use of what is given them?

Parker Palmer, in The Promise of Paradox (1980, reissued 2008), writes that we too easily accept the illusion of scarcity: “Most of us gain our sense of self not from what we share with others, but from the ways we are different from them. I define myself not in terms of what you and I have in common, but by what I have that you don’t and what you have that I don’t. I define myself in relation to scarcities which we possess unequally.”

None of us merit the good things in life. We strive for them; we obtain them. But we are meant to share them, not keep them. The Village provides the sign that God’s gifts to us are unlimited. His goodness knows no bounds. He has already given us the land flowing with milk and honey; we have only to share it.

 

[A link back to Part 1 in this 3-part series is here.]

 

James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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