THE NOBLE ART OF RECEIVING
Everyone likes to give gifts or money or favors to others. The motivations are different with each such transaction. During my last thirty years or so, I have been making a conscious effort to receive whatever comes to me from others with the same graciousness and appreciation with which it was given to me. You have heard the saying, “It is better to give than to receive.” While that is still true, receiving anything from someone requires the noble art of humility and gratitude.
During one of my Lectio Divina meditations (Phil 2:5), I thought about the gifts that God has given us through Christ, gifts that don’t make us wealthy except in our ability to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength and our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:38) These are riches that don’t corrupt, gifts we can take with us to Heaven. Here are some of the thoughts I had about receiving from anyone, especially God.
- In what might seem like a Thomistic theorem, a gift is as valuable as the one who gives it. The implications for me as a Lay Cistercian are phenomenal in their application to Cistercian spirituality. When I began to count my gifts from Christ through the Holy Spirit, I was stunned. Of course, there is the gift of faith, the gift of humility, the gift of obedience, all of whom I have accepted as part of my purpose in life (Phil 2:5). Think about it. God gives us only what we need to help us love one another like He loved us. Can we repay these gifts?
- To repay gifts from God you would have to be God. That is where Christ, Son of God, comes to our aid. Although we are indeed adopted sons and daughters of the Father, we still cannot say thank you to the Father without Christ. We can only approach the Father through, with and in Christ, not the saints (including Holy Mary, Mother of God), not any clergy to include pope, bishop, priest or deacon, and certainly not by ourselves as one who are so presumptuous as to think that they speak for God. When we do pray to the saints, we do so through, with and in Christ, recognizing that they stand before the Throne of the Lamb giving intercession for us.
- The Eucharist means thanksgiving, a direct link between the thanksgiving sacrifices of the Jewish people to God and the ongoing sacrifice of Christ to His Father. In the Eucharist, Christ becomes present to us so that we can tag along with him as he returns to the Father with adequate thanks for what we have received. So, how does Christ speak to us in each age to give us what we need to sustain our love in the midst of Original Sin? We say thank you to God for His gifts through prayer, particularly Eucharist, Lectio Divina, Liturgy of the Hours, Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, Medication, Reading Scriptures. Since our receiving is itself a sign of thanks in Christ, it is not only more blessed to give than to receive, but the reception of God’s gifts through Christ is also blessed. We win both ways with Christ.
- For those not God, or the rest of us, we must learn the art of receiving graciously and nobly with Christ as our example. St. Benedict and other monastic traditions, such as Cistercians, found that accepting those who come to the monastery as Christ was key to showing respect to the Christ in others. This is hospitality, a key component of monastic life and very important as a mind-set for Lay Cistercians.
- Hospitality is not only giving to other out of the love of Christ, but also receiving Christ from them in return, especially if they are un-believers or those from other belief systems not compatible with our own.
- Receiving from others gives each of the opportunity to prefer nothing to the love of Christ (Chapter 4, Rule of St. Benedict) because we see Christ in whomever is in front of us. This is extremely difficult to do, but is our calling as Lay Cistercians.
PRACTICES TO CULTIVATE THE NOBLE ART OF RECEIVING
Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5)
Say thank you to others when they pick up the check at a restaurant without making a scene about who will pay. Pay for them next time.
Say thank you to others when they do things for you that are unannounced. You don’t owe them anything, when they give you a birthday gift and you don’t have to repay them with an even more expensive one.
Gifts given with love should be received with love, not jealousy, anger, or owing people.
The gifts that is unconditional (given freely with no strings attached or expected) is the great gift. Equally important is unconditional receiving, where you don’t have to repay anyone. A simple thank you and recognition that this is from Christ is sufficient.
Cistercian monks and nuns pray for us each day and we don’t even know it. Our receiving back is to pray for them in return that they love one another as Christ has loved us.
The sacrifice of Christ on the cross and sustained in the eucharist is the greatest gift, that of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection over and over until He comes in glory. We don’t deserve any of the gifts Christ gives us. We can receive them into ourselves with the purpose of sharing them with those around us unconditionally.
Praise to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian Doxology