The Christmas gifts have longed been opened and my hunch is that you, like myself, received several gift cards that are still sitting in a desk drawer, in the car console or located somewhere in the house. I actually enjoy the cards, in that I can purchase items that I know I need and will enjoy. In fact, research indicates 39.2 percent of shoppers purchased a department store gift card for family and friends, while 33.4 percent opted for a restaurant gift card for that special person on their Christmas list. To some extent, the same will be true for Valentine’s Day as well, especially for spas. Now, the consideration is whether or not we will actually redeem those gift cards!
According to estimates reported in the Journal of State Taxation, the typical American home has an average of $300.00 in unredeemed gift cards lying around in their homes, cars, wallets, purses, desk drawers and closets. Such cards are also often misplaced, accidentally throw out, or only partially redeemed. Since 2005, an estimated $45.7 billion has been floating around in unused gift card balances (Finder.com). What good is a gift card, if it is never used or still has available funds that have never been redeemed?
I believe the same can be said of our faith—why deny ourselves God’s gift of his Son, and the love and grace he has poured out for us, to go unused? God’s grace always awaits those ready to receive it. It is redeemed, so to speak, when we open our hearts to his love. God’s grace is found in the sacraments, in our daily prayer, in his Word, in our relationships, but God’s grace is also available to us in our struggles, in our temptations and weaknesses, in our spiritual battles, in our family problems, in our fears and anxiety and in other challenging situations, if we are willing to redeem it.
Saint Paul certainly knew how to call upon the grace of Christ to assist him, but only until he realized such grace could be found in the midst of his personal struggles. In 2 Corinthians 8-10 we read: “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” We all have struggles—physical, emotional and spiritual distress of all kinds—and Christ offers assurance that his grace is with us in the midst of them.
Saint Paul referred to his as “a thorn in the flesh,” but whatever we call them; we are not left alone to carry them. Grace, the ever-present movement of the Spirit of God within us, sustains us. This gift of grace, which can be neither earned nor purchased, is a free gift and our opportunity to participate in the life of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines grace as “…first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church (CCC,
§2003). The Trappist monk and spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, explained grace in this way: “Grace is not a strange, magic substance which is subtly filtered into our souls to act as a kind of spiritual penicillin. Grace is unity, oneness within ourselves, oneness with God” (The New Man, p.29, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003).
I have the distinct privilege of daily witnessing the power of God’s grace working within individuals and in the Body of Christ, his Church. Bringing healing to others through sacramental grace reminds me of how small I am and how large God is in our world. The young man battling cancer with courage beyond ordinary, human capacity; the husband and wife healing from overwhelming hurt and brokenness in their marriage; or celebrating Mass and having the opportunity to feed God’s people with the Body and Blood of his Son, reminds me over and over again of the power of his grace. I am humbled by the healing presence of God in our lives, which enables such courage to be exemplified. This grace is available to all of us, if we are willing to trust in our loving Savior and open our hearts to him.
Therefore, let us make sure we do not allow the gift of God’s grace to go unused. We are never alone and in whatever we are confronting—physically, emotion- ally, relationally or spiritually—the grace of God is ours, when we open our hearts to receive it. God knows what we need and when we need it. Like a loving parent, God wants only the best for us. He is that close to us—and even more. Saint Augustine said it best: “In my heart of hearts God is closer to me than I am to myself.” God’s grace is available. Why let the Gift go unused?
Father Gary Janak