1 SM 1:24-28
1 SAMUEL 2: 1, 4-5, 6-7, 8ABCD
LK 1: 46-56
One of the best periods of my life was when I was a Jesuit novice. The formation I received at the novitiate changed me profoundly. The novitiate building itself became as much a home as my family’s house, and every year all the young Jesuits would gather there to watch the newest Jesuits take their vows. I came to cherish that former convent on Denver’s east side. So when the Jesuits decided to sell that building, it was a blow to many of us. The last time I visited the place was difficult, even heart-wrenching. But as we were driving away, I was suddenly inspired to repeat a line from the book of Job: “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” That prayer helped me express my gratitude for the gift (which was never meant to last forever) and to praise the Giver of the gift (rather than idolizing the gift). As the novitiate disappeared in the rear-view mirror, I was no longer sad—just feeling blessed, and content to put myself in God’s hands for the future.
Today’s first reading is startling. Hannah was a woman who prayed earnestly, with copious tears, for a child… and now she says to the priest at the temple: “I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request; now I, in turn, give him to the Lord,” and she leaves the young Samuel there. Do we ever beg God for some favor, but then give it right back to God? It almost seems nonsensical. But something about this paradoxical back-and-forth lies at the heart of a relationship of love and trust. As St. Ignatius Loyola wrote, “Love consists in a mutual sharing of goods—the lover gives and shares with the beloved what he possesses, and vice versa, the beloved shares with the lover.” It’s love that enables us to pray Ignatius’ most famous prayer: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me; to you, Lord, I return it.”
As we prepare for a season of gift-giving to celebrate God’s greatest gift to us—the gift of God’s very self—it’s good to remember that gift-giving is not really about the gift: it’s about the relationship that the gift expresses. God showers us with gifts every day of our lives. As the Psalmist sings, “What return can I make to the Lord for all that he has done for me?” If all we have and are comes from God, the only thing we’re able to do in return is to give back what we’ve received—even all we have and are. As a wise Jesuit once told me, “God is a jealous lover; he wants it all.” Let’s pray that we can be as freely generous with God as God is with us. And in the end it is all for our good… for it is in giving that we receive, and it is in losing ourselves that we ultimately find ourselves.
Fr. Steve Schoenig, S.J. teaches in the Department of History.