What gift can I give to One who has everything? What gift is worthy of the King of kings, the Creator of all that exists?
The Blessed Virgin supplies us with an answer in the words she spoke to Venerable Mary of Agreda regarding the Epiphany:
Great were the gifts which the kings offered to my most holy Son, but greater still was the affection with which they offered them and the mystery concealed beneath them. I wish you also to offer up similar gifts. …There are few in the world who use temporal riches well and offer them to their Lord with the generosity and love of those holy kings. You too can make such an offering of the things necessary for sustenance, giving a part to the poor. Your ceaseless offer, however, must be love, which is the gold; continual prayer which is the incense; and the patient acceptance of labors and true mortifications, which is the myrrh. All that you do for the Lord, you should offer up to Him with ardent affection.
(The Life of Mary as Seen by the Mystics, p. 126-127)
Love is the Gold
The God of all possesses all things except one—our hearts: “All that the Father has, He has given to Me. Nothing is wanting to Me but your heart with its free will, which is yours. It is that which I ask of you” (Our Lord to Sr. Mary of the Trinity, The Spiritual Legacy, 153). Love not freely given is not love at all. For this reason, regarding humanity, the Creator has chosen not to possess the heart of His creature until it is given to Him. He gives us possession of our free will precisely so we can love Him and lovingly surrender our will to Him.
This is the one gift we can give to the King of the universe, the one gift that He desires so much that He suffered the Cross for it: “Look at My wounds! Who has suffered for love of you as I have?” (Our Lord to Sr. Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, March 21, 1923). There is no place our God would rather be than in the heart of His beloved child: “Your heart is My heaven,” He says to us (Our Lord to St. Faustina, Diary, 238).
Although the extent to which God goes to obtain each heart is infinitely great, we still retain the prerogative of giving it to Him. “God presses, but does not oppress our liberty” (St. Francis de Sales). He does not push Himself upon us. If we want Him, we must choose Him. And when we do give Him our heart, our joy is full, our existence is complete, and God gives us in return His Own Heart. What a glorious exchange! Our paltry hearts for His! What a paradox: we struggle to give Him our pittance as He waits to overwhelm us with His infinite riches. Yet, for God, one’s heart, small though it may be, is the greatest gift of all because by it He can give Himself as He wishes: “the best gift that you can make Me is to receive Me” (Our Lord to Mary of the Trinity, The Spiritual Legacy, 525). This blessed giving of our love to God is not a one-time event. It is with our every moment, every breath, every movement that we love Him. Yet, we need not be perfect to give this gift to Jesus: even our desire to love Him is love itself.
How do I give this most lustrous gift of all—my love? I do it by giving my entire self and soul to Him. This sounds like such a daunting undertaking. How do I give my entire self—mind, heart, body and will—to God? By the power of God’s grace it can be accomplished. It is done little by little, moment by moment through continual prayer (the incense), which contains the gift of the mind and heart, and through one’s labor of offering every act and suffering (the myrrh), which contains the gift of the will and the body.
Continual Prayer is the Incense
It seems such a little thing, giving our thoughts to God. But this act is not the least bit inconsequential. It has the utmost significance to God because in true prayer, we are engaging our whole selves—our mind, heart, and soul—and thereby giving Him our whole selves. It’s all directed to Him.
The Heart of Jesus wishes us to tell Him of our love for Him. Some people think that words of love are unnecessary or even meaningless. However, such words are only empty if love is not lived. Living sacrificial love should be accompanied by frequent words and sentiments of love. Jesus says, “Love Me and never tire of telling Me of your love…. Say it often, to make up for the forgetfulness of so many” (Our Lord to Sr. Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, November 21, 1920).
Sometimes when we sit down for a Holy Hour or other prayer, words escape us, we feel God is silent as well, and even words in the Bible and prayer books seem to have lost all luster and power. This aridity reminds us that what God desires most when we pray is for us to simply be with Him. “Look at Me and let Me look at you. That is enough” (Our Lord to Sr. Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, April 17, 1922). So many graces and joys are poured into our hearts when we spend an entire period of prayer gazing with the eyes of our hearts and souls into the Eyes and Heart of Jesus.
Even just a glance gives so much delight to the Heart of Jesus. Our union with God in prayer can be “constant and intimate as it is between friends who live together; for even if they are not talking all the time, at least they look at each other, and their mutual affectionate little kindnesses are the fruit of their love” (Our Lord to Sr. Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, December 2, 1922).
These glances throughout our busy days are so precious to Our Lord. However, the gift of time set aside for prayer is also desired by our Beloved: “Let Me rest a while with you, let Me tell you of My joy” (Our Lord to Sr. Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, March 3, 1923).
The way we can make our prayers continual even when our minds are not free to be lifted up to God is by offering Him our every act and daily labor. “When souls are unable to remain long hours in My presence as they would like to, either because they must take their rest or go to preoccupying work which takes up all their attention, there is nothing to prevent their [being] with Me…. One instant is enough to say to Me: ‘Lord, I am going to sleep or to work, but my soul will keep Thee company. Its activity alone will rest tonight, or is engaged in this work, but all my powers will still belong to Thee and my heart keep for Thee its tenderest and most constant affection” (Our Lord to Sr. Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, March 26, 1923).
Acceptance of Labor and Mortifications is the Myrrh
Words of prayer are like pieces of straw that blow away in the wind if they do not have the weight of our daily labor and sacrifices united to them. Our prayer must be united to our acts or they become empty: “Those who pray should not come to God with fruitless or naked prayers. …For He who will give us in the day of judgment a reward for our labors and alms is, even in this life, a Merciful Hearer of the one who comes to Him in prayer associated with good works” (Cyprian of Carthage).
Love is void if it is reduced to only sentiment or mere emotion. God created our emotions as good and He desires them to be fixed on Him. But love is not merely emotional. Our Lord revealed to us that we cannot love Him without actively loving our neighbor: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 Jn 5:20) and “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). In fact, this is the surest way out of a bout of melancholy—doing something for another out of selfless, disinterested love—because by such an act we not only love our neighbor but also our God. This opens up the exchange of love between ourselves and God, the exchange that pours His Own Heart into ours. God’s love cannot be earned—it is sheer divine benevolence available to all. However, we cannot receive divine love nor return love to Him without the labor of loving God in our neighbor. Our neighbor is near at hand. Sacrifices are easy to find as well: giving a difficult smile, patiently accepting the eccentricities of others, quickly responding to requests.
What about our lengthy, tedious obligations that seem unconnected to love of God or neighbor? I have long wrestled with understanding how mindless yet consuming work, such as some types of office work, could be fulfilling or useful in the spiritual realm…it all seemed such a waste of time. Eventually, through influences such as St. Therese of Lisieux, I came to understand that every tiny mundane act, if done out of love, becomes infinitely valuable.
So, when faced with monotonous activity that consumes the faculties of the soul and expends volumes of time, if we can say, “I endure this otherwise useless task to love You with it, Lord,” then the task itself and all the time consumed in it becomes our offering of love. Nothing is for naught. No time is wasted. No work is too small. No task is beneath us. “I do not look at the act itself, I look at the intention. The smallest act, if done out of love, acquires such merit that it gives Me immense consolation” (Our Lord to Sr. Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, September 8, 1922). If ever we are dissatisfied with the work God or circumstance calls us to, we can remember the words of St. Francis de Sales: “What does it matter to a truly loving soul whether God be served by this means or by another?” We can truly love Him by any and every act if, in everything we do, we express, “For love of You, oh Lord.”
Enduring mindless labor is one type of mortification we can offer to our Lord as our gift of love. Other mortifications with which we can love the Lord are our irritations, sufferings, disappointments, frailties, and even our falls. Our joys, our trials, our works, and every circumstance that comes our way are instruments we can use to love the Lord: “Do not lose…a single occasion of offering to Me all that I send you” (Our Lord to Sr. Mary of the Trinity, The Spiritual Legacy, 7).
When we fall ill, we often wonder what good we can do when we can do no work and words of prayer are impossible. St. Teresa of Avila sets us straight regarding this error: “One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer.” The truth is that “suffering out of love for God is better than working miracles” (St. John of the Cross) and “suffering counts for more than work” (St. Anthony Mary Claret). Offering our suffering to God is praying with not only our minds and hearts, but with our bodies as well.
Every labor and good act and every mortification and suffering can obtain infinite value if we unite them to the Sufferings of Christ by offering them “For love of You, oh Lord.” Our Lord referred to this truth when He expressed to one of the mystics: “Put it all in the Wound of My Heart, so that your offering may acquire an infinite value” (Our Lord to Sr. Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, February 20, 1921).
Meditation for the Feast of Epiphany:
Behold the Christ Child
Let us now enter the quiet of our hearts and gather our gifts for the King by making resolutions of love, continual prayer, and acceptance of labors and mortifications. Let us not be troubled by our spiritual littleness remembering, “small vessels may hold great gifts” (St. Ephraim the Syrian). Our Lord urges us not to worry if we are not yet able to give Him as much of ourselves as we should: “The more you give Me, the more will I increase your capacity for giving” (Our Lord to Sr. Mary of the Trinity, The Spiritual Legacy, 40). With these resolutions gathered up, let us go now to the Christ Child and lay them before Him while beholding Him in spirit:
Suddenly, I saw Him; He was quite tiny. He was…wrapped in a white veil which left only His little hands and feet uncovered. He held His little hands crossed on His breast, and His joyous eyes were so lovely, so full of joy, they seemed to speak. His hair was quite short; in fact everything about Him was little, and with the tenderest and sweetest voice He said to me: “Yes…I am your King.”
(Sr. Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, December 25, 1922)
...I suddenly saw the Infant Jesus standing by my kneeler and holding on to it with His two little hands. Although He was but a little Child, my soul was filled with awe and fear, for I see in Him my Judge, my Lord, and my Creator, before whose holiness the Angels tremble. At the same time, my soul was flooded with such unspeakable love that I thought I would die under its influence.
(Diary of St. Faustina, 566)
After taking off their sandals and turbans, the three Kings entered the grotto. At their first sight of the Mother and Child, they were overwhelmed with reverence and admiration, and their pure hearts overflowed with joyful devotion. …They also perceived the multitude of resplendent angels who were attending the King of kings. Then the three Magi simultaneously prostrated themselves very humbly on the ground and fervently worshipped the divine Infant, acknowledging Him as their Lord and Master and as the Savior of all mankind.
When they arose, Mary sat down, holding Jesus on her lap. …Then she uncovered the upper part of the Christ Child’s body, which was wrapped in red and white swaddling clothes, and with one hand supported His head, while she put her other arm around Him. The Infant Jesus had His tiny hands crossed on His chest, as if He were praying, and all His features seemed to radiate joy and love.
Seeing the divine Babe of Bethlehem thus, the three Kings fell on their knees before Him and again adored and worshipped Him. Their hearts became inflamed with a burning mystical devotion for Him. And in a fervent, silent prayer they offered to the Christ Child their kingdoms, their peoples, their families, all their possessions, and their own selves. They humbly begged Him to rule over their souls and thoughts and all their actions, to enlighten them and to give happiness, peace and charity to the world. Tears of joy and devotion ran down their cheeks, while all they could say was: ‘We saw His star—we know that He is to reign over all kings—and we have come to worship Him and to offer Him our gifts.’…As each gift was presented, the divine Infant smiled.
…When at last the Kings had to leave, the Mother of God allowed each of them to hold the Christ Child in his arms, and as each did so, his face became transfigured with joy and he wept tenderly.
(The Life of Mary As Seen By the Mystics, p. 124-125)
When I arrived at Midnight Mass, from the very beginning I steeped myself in deep recollection, during which time I saw the stable of Bethlehem filled with great radiance. The Blessed Virgin, all lost in the deepest of love, was wrapping Jesus in swaddling clothes, but Saint Joseph was still asleep. Only after the Mother of God put Jesus in the manger did the light of God awaken Joseph, who also prayed. But after a while, I was left alone with the Infant Jesus who stretched out His little hands to me, and I understood that I was to take Him in my arms. Jesus pressed His head against my heart and gave me to know, by His profound gaze, how good He found it to be next to my heart.
(Diary of St. Faustina, 1442)
When Mass began, a strange silence and joy filled my heart. Just then I saw Our Lady with the Infant Jesus, and [St. Joseph] standing behind them… The most holy Mother said to me, “Take my Dearest Treasure,” and she handed me the Infant Jesus. …Jesus stretched out His little arms to me and looked at me with a smile. My soul was filled with incomparable joy. Then suddenly, Jesus disappeared. …After Holy Communion, I heard these words in my soul: “I am in your heart, I whom you had in your arms.”
He asked me to take Him in my arms. When I did take Him in my arms, He cuddled up close to my bosom and said, “It is good for Me to be close to your heart. ... Because I want to teach you spiritual childhood, I want you to be very little, because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart, just as you are holding Me close to your heart right now.”
Then suddenly…I seemed to have in my arms a beautiful child of three; He kissed me and caressed me and asked me whether I knew Him and whether I loved Him. I embraced Him ardently and told Him that I loved Him very much.
(Letter from Saint Gemma Galgani to her Confessor, Monsignor Giovanni Volpi, Auxiliary Bishop of Lucca)
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Galgani, Gemma. Letter to Monsignor Giovanni Volpi, Auxiliary Bishop of Lucca. Quoted in Glenn Dallaire. “Visions of the Child Jesus in the Lives of the Saints.” Mystics of the Church. December 22 2013.
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Image: Madonna and Child, by Marianne Stokes, 1907, Wikimedia Commons.