It’s Jesus’ birthday, not yours. In today’s materialistic society, that can be a difficult message to sell to children. And yet, we must! As the “Papa BEAR” to 200+ young people, my colleagues and I use this statement as more than a mantra. This proclamation becomes the message of Advent as we help our students direct their efforts to preparing for the main focus of this blessed season – the birth of Christ. So how do we teach our students that it is greater to give than to receive? At St. Agnes School, we often use the teachable moments in our daily Community Meeting as a fitting occasion in which to impart our Catholic beliefs. Each morning we offer prayers and listen to Scripture and stories of faith. This school-wide gathering provides a practical setting in which to evangelize.
As an example, on December 6th I shared the story of the real Santa Claus. On the feast day of St. Nicholas, I used the life of this Bishop of Myra (present day Turkey) and the following account as an event in which to give emphasis to the joy of giving and the generosity of spirit we are called to share with others:
A very poor widower who lived in Myra was unable to provide a dowry (money or property for marriage) for his three daughters to be wed. As such, the culture of that time would say that his daughters would never marry. Nicholas heard about the widower and decided late one night to go to the man’s home and throw a bag of gold through the window—enough to pay the dowry for his oldest daughter. The Bishop of Myra then did this another night for the second daughter—enough to pay her dowry. As one might imagine, the father wondered who was helping him and was determined to find out who was giving this money for his daughters’ dowries. So the next night, he locked the windows and watched out the door. Nicholas wanted to help, but he didn’t want to be seen. So, in the back of the house, far from the father's sight, he dropped the bag of gold for the third daughter right down the chimney.
As I shared this story with our students, I was not only offering our young people a lesson into the life of this blessed saint, I was also bringing light to the virtues of our faith. This beloved story speaks of charity, generosity, goodness and joy. And by sharing such narratives, we are teaching our students to walk with the saints in a way that promotes the message that it is greater to give than to receive.
The moments in our Community Meeting also provides us a fitting occasion in which to use Scripture to uphold the meaning of the season. For this reason, I shared the following passage with our students:
You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Acts 1: 34-35