COMMENTARY: A theology of gift and grandparents
Grandparents rank among the best gift-givers.
In our house, they are legendary. Presents tumbling out of suitcases. Piles under the Christmas tree. Birthday packages on the doorstep with Sunday comics tucked inside as colorful cushions.
Everyday moments are no exception. Extra cookies after dinner. Ice cream cones on a sunny afternoon. One more game of catch, one more round of cribbage, one more push on the swing.
Grandparents love to give, and grandchildren love to receive. Not every family knows this relationship, but wherever we see the outpouring of affection between generations, we witness a gift of human love.
Giving and receiving stand among life’s greatest joys.
Each time we receive the Eucharist, we participate in God’s generous gift-giving. Amid the latest debates about Communion in the church, I’ve watched my children with their grandparents, wondering what our families might teach us about a theology of gift-giving.
Gifts are freely offered. They are not forced; they cannot be demanded. The way my children reach out their arms for a hug or a treat from their grandparents mirrors how we open our hands or mouth to receive the Eucharist. We learn not to grab out of greed; we wait with humility and patience — and joy awaits us.
By definition, true gifts are good, never cruel or conniving. They are treasures, not tricks. More than once I’ve watched a child turn wide-eyed to a grandparent and ask, “How did you know I wanted this?” with delight and disbelief. Gifts remind us that we are seen, known and cherished.
Gifts are meant to be enjoyed, not kept on a shelf gathering dust. Every present has a purpose, even (and especially) when it is the simple gift of presence.
My kids remember special days spent with grandparents long after they leave favorite toys or books behind. Gifts draw together giver and receiver, just as we come closer to Christ in Communion.
Gifts are unearned. They are not payment for services rendered or conditional loans based on good behavior. Gifts spring from a place of selfless love.
At every Mass, we remember we cannot control or earn God’s favor as a reward but only accept what is offered as mystery: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Gifts invite gratitude. Saying or writing a word of thanks might feel forced at first, nudged by a parent’s prompting. But over time we hope to cultivate natural thanksgiving as a response of joy in return.
Likewise the word “Eucharist” itself means thanksgiving — a reminder that gratitude is what we bring to God for grace that is unearned but overflowing.
As an adult, I love to find reminders of gifts my grandparents gave me decades ago. An inscription in a Bible or a card tucked in a book brings back memories of their affection, the warmth of knowing I was beloved to them, even among many cousins.
My husband and I laugh that each gathering of grandparents with grandkids convenes the mutual admiration society.
We as parents stand separate from their delight and affection for each other, pure and unburdened by the discipline (and drudgery) of daily parenting. But even this arrangement is wisely given by God, who knows we need to be seen and loved by many people in different ways.
All of us are called to be gift for each other.
May we spend our lives in awe of the gifts we’ve been given, seeking to share them with those in need. May we learn from young and old how to give and receive in love, just as Jesus does for us.