God is love, and if we wish to have love we must learn to give as God gives. He gives Himself. We must learn to do the same if we want to love and be loved.
Love, then, is presence, one person being present really and truly with all of his or her gifts for the sake of another person. In the case of God's total gift of Himself in Jesus Christ for which we prepare in this final week of Advent, the gift is of the Divine Presence, God is Himself with us, the ones whom He loves. We must learn to give the sign of love as God does if we are to truly know the joy of loving.
The sign of God's "present of presence" on the altar at holy Mass makes this and every church where the Eucharist is celebrated a new Bethlehem, a "house of bread", where God Himself feeds His people with the true nourishment of love. God gives Himself in Jesus Christ every time the holy Mass is celebrated, offered and received.
"The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit." (CCC 1325)
The grace of the Eucharistic life continues for us as we learn to give ourselves with sincerity and generosity to one another. We live in true Eucharistic communion as we learn to live and express thankfulness for every human person and for the gifts and graces he or she brings into our lives as a reflection of God's self-giving in the Eucharistic banquet of His love. This self-giving and sacrificial love in communion with and in imitation of Christ must begin in and radiate outward from the Christian family.
"The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father's work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task." (CCC 2205)
Many rush about in these final days before Christmas preparing to give well, to give the gift which best expresses love for someone else. Let us also prepare well, through the gift of the Lord Himself in the Eucharist and in a life of sincere and regular prayer, to receive well in words and gestures of kindness and thankfulness, that is, in love, those who give a sign of love to us in this and in all the seasons of our lives. When we do so, we give what the other truly needs and the thing for which every gift serves merely as a sign: the "present of presence".
As we learn to express in sincere words of thanks and selfless gestures of service our gratitude for the presence of others in the family, we practice the "present of presence", the grace of the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ which began that first Christmas night, in the family of Mary and Joseph, and which is given to us really and truly once again every time we meet, adore and love the Lord Jesus Emmanuel in the most blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever! Amen!
Image: Nativity by Gaudi, detail from La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.