By Jeanette Arnquist
Suppose you bought a house last year and along with the other nice things that it provided, there was a mature peach tree in the backyard. Then, before you ever thought very much about the peach tree, you discovered that it was full of very delicious peaches that were all getting ripe at once. What would you do? You might think about canning some of them, but that is so much work and you probably don’t even have the equipment. You might think about dehydrating some of them, but that only deals with a very small amount of the bounty.
You would probably give most of them away. You would give them to neighbors, you would take baskets full of them to work. You would see if the food bank could use them. You would find ways to share this gift. You would do this in part because if you don’t get rid of all those peaches they are going to rot and become a big problem. And in part because you are a nice person and you want to share. And in part because you realize that even though you own the peach tree, you did little or nothing to deserve the abundance. It was a gift.
Our lives are full of gifts. Each day is a gift and so is each sunrise and sunset. We are surrounded by the gifts of nature and the gifts of the circumstances of our lives. We have access to clean water and abundant food. We can communicate with people across the planet within seconds. We have the gift of good relationships. We have access to abundant resources.
We each have talents and abilities that seem to be part of us; we are gifted. Yes, we may have worked hard to develop them, and that ability to work hard is also a gift.
As we approach Thanksgiving and preparation for Christmas, let us reflect on the gifts we have been given and be thankful. Our culture glorifies “doing it on our own,” and sometimes that gets in the way of recognizing gifts because we think we earned them. Our faith urges us to recognize that almost everything in our lives is a gratuitous gift from God.
Let us also reflect on the question of how we use our gifts. Is it morally right for us to use them only for ourselves? Or are we called to share them?
There is a principle in Catholic Social Teaching called the “Universal Destination of Goods.” This means that the earth, its resources and the fruit of human labor are meant to provide for the needs of all people and for the common good. God our creator intended the gifts of creation to flow to all people in a fair way, so that all would have enough.
Of course, this principle does not mean that we don’t have a right to private property or that we have to tear every tortilla in half and share it with a hungry person. But it does mean that no person or nation can hoard a surplus if others don’t have the necessities to thrive (Rerum Novarum 19). We all have a moral obligation to contribute to the common good according to our means.
When we acknowledge that something in our life is a gift, it is easier to generously share it. This flow of receiving something, taking it in and then passing it on is the flow of grace. It is God’s plan. We express our gratitude to God by using the gifts we have received to make the world a better place.
As we enter the season of almost non-stop gatherings and celebrations, let’s not forget those in our communities and across the planet who are hungry, who have lost their homes, who are fleeing violence. As we are shopping for food and gifts for our friends and family, let’s budget time and money for those who are less fortunate.
We might not be able to travel to Ukraine or other places that have been devastated by war or weather, but we can financially support excellent organization like Catholic Relief Services that do relief and development work.
Each of us also has gifts or talents that we can share by getting involved with organizations that are dedicated to helping “the least of these.” Even the gift of volunteering to be present with people who are struggling or suffering can make a difference in their lives. And our own lives as well.
And let us not forget the importance of public policy in fighting hunger and promoting sustainable development. Taking the time to understand the issues on the ballot and supporting candidates who will work for the common good is a moral obligation. What can you do to get involved in making the systemic changes necessary to promote justice and peace?
Let us remember that the gifts we have received are best when shared.
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tucson, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.