Receiving gifts can be an art, especially when you receive something that is not quite what you wanted or you can’t use or that you just plain don’t like. It’s okay to admit this, folks. I’ve been reflecting a lot on this — not really in terms of receiving presents, but rather in terms of the things that happen in life that aren’t exactly what we want, but we must receive them, embrace them regardless of how we initially feel or think about them.

A recent event brought this home to me. While I was in New York City with Sister Maxine Kollasch, IHM, we stayed with a wonderful group of nuns. When we arrived at the convent late Sunday night, they brought us into the dining room and fed us. Even though it was nearing bedtime, all of the sisters in the convent came down to the dining room to meet us and to be with us while we ate dinner. It meant the world to Sister Maxine and me.

While cleaning up the dishes afterward, we noticed a HUGE tray of croissants in the kitchen. Seriously, they were giant croissants and there was enough to feed the convent for days. The nuns remarked that the croissants had been dropped off for them by a gentleman who brings them something every week or two without fail. Even after they told him to stop (“Enough!”) he still kept on bringing stuff — croissants, fruit, bread, sweets, and all kinds of wonderful things. Now the nuns didn’t really “need” the stuff, in fact it was more than their household could use. But these nuns understood something about the art of receiving gifts. They recognized that he was expressing his deep gratitude and his affection for them in this gesture. And I think they also knew that their receiving of the gifts was a gift in return.

I learned from these wonderful nuns about giving generously and receiving generously. The simple truth is that our gift-giving and gift-receiving ought always to be an expression of love, a love that is sometimes extravagant, sometimes “more than enough”. After all, this gift exchange is nothing other than a reflection of our God who is lavish in love of us, who goes to great lengths to care for us, and who cherishes us more than a thousand buttery croissants!