This time of the year, thoughtful parents remind their children, “It’s better to give than to receive.”
That may be true, but the Latin phrase Nemo dat quod non habet, offers nuance to this Christmas fact: “You can’t give what you don’t have.” If we’re good at receiving, then we’ll have lots to give this Christmas season. In fact, giving generously begins with receiving generously.
Let’s be honest. Christmas is a time to receive, but not like a spoiled child’s approach to receiving — more like a deer that yearns for running streams (Psalm 42). During Christmas, we seek the Feast that satisfies our desert longing — a food that can only truly console if the food is God himself.
The phrase “You can’t give what you don’t have” reminds me of something else that Pope Francis said early in his pontificate about confession and mercy. He reminded us that God doesn’t tire of forgiving, even though we may get tired of asking. We should never allow our “cheapness” in receiving limit God’s infinite goodness! As such, we can give his mercy more generously.
Thankfully, in the pre-Christmas season of Advent, the Church decorates our churches in purple, a reminder of penitential waiting and longing. But since our modern world has bought into the fast-food mentality, we impatiently force Christmas celebrations too soon, almost force-feeding ourselves with all of the “Christmas-y” things to the point of gluttony.
As soon as gifts are unwrapped, the world says Christmas ends, the decorated tree becomes curbside garbage, and the “Christmas Spirit” becomes a ghost of the past.
Our holidays are no longer “holy days,” perhaps because we have never really received the true Christmas Spirit. Remember, if we don’t receive it, we can’t give it. We can pay a lot of money for wrapped presents once a year, but is that a sign of the true generosity that Christmas deserves?
Ebenezer Scrooge became generous only after he received the real meaning of Christmas. He proved it by giving even after Christmas ended. I’d like to challenge every reader by asking, “Are you too cheap to receive what God wants to give to you this Christmas?” Or in chef language, “Are you hungry enough for all that God wants to feed you?”
Being “cheap” with our faith is especially noticed during the Advent and Christmas seasons. We are “cheap” with how we receive all that God wants to offer us. When God gives, he gives the best of wines — and a lot of it. He gives food that requires 12 baskets of leftovers. He allows us to catch fish to the point of breaking the nets. And, of course, at Christmas, God gives to his prodigal children something more valuable than the fatted calf. He gives the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
No one likes to be called “cheap,” but we should probably ask whether last year’s Christmas gave us such a spiritual grace and insight that we lived this past year growing closer to God and sharing our faith with others. Did we recognize the gifts that God wanted us to receive, or were we too busy preparing for “stuff” that the meaning of Christ’s incarnation went over our heads and not into our hearts?
This year, hopefully, we can avoid being cheap with our feasting on God’s generosity by avoiding the pitfalls that turn us into modern-day Scrooges.
Being cheap begins with impatience. Put plainly, we don’t give God the time that he deserves. Impatience plagued the Jewish people wandering in the desert for 40 years. They wanted immediate signs from God.
In their impatience, they manufactured the golden calf — a false god, a true demigod — a lesser god. Impatience leads to an appetite or “taste” for mediocrity — something far less than what God wants to give us.
In our impatience, we can get accustomed to routine, avoiding change (i.e., conversion), and in our lethargy we become content with stagnation. It’s depressing but true. We may no longer want to receive the ever-abundant gift that God gives to us because we’d rather sit in the semi-nice kingdom we built for ourselves. We no longer become excited for God’s kingdom. We become “cheap” at receiving.
Another reason people become cheap is because they don’t take time to discern their real needs, and therefore they fail to properly ask for these gifts in prayer. God knows what we want and what we need. But God also respects our freedom to either ask for these gifts or not. We’re often too afraid, not trusting or even aware of all that God will provide for those who generously devote time to seeking and knocking on heaven’s door.
Generosity is the key to understanding and entering those halls of the heavenly feast. However, in impatience, we may be afraid to give of ourselves to others. And when we’re selfish with others, we become cheap and selfish with God. Being cheap and being generous is the same street, but in opposite directions. We can only give what we have; and we can only have what we’re willing to give. Consider the widow who gave out of her need. Those two small coins, known as the widow’s mite, merited for her an eternal Christmas gift (Luke 21:1-4).
Christmas is a holiday when God wants to give to us more than we can imagine. During Christmas God proves he provides a feast! As St. Teresa of Calcutta tells us, in Christmas, God put the whole world in Mary’s hands because she was generous — in giving and in receiving.
The antidote of being cheap is to learn generosity — as a giver and receiver. And we’re not talking about money, but something more valuable: time for God.
Advent gives us time — this precious opportunity to prepare, wait and hunger for all that God wants to give to us from this little town called Bethlehem, a word in Aramaic that means “house of bread.” In Arabic, Bethlehem is known as “house of meat.” This small Child, who fits into our hands as the Body of Christ, will be placed in a manger, a word from Latin that means “to eat.” It’s a reminder that what God gives to us is no ordinary bread, but the Gift of all gifts and the Food above all foods.
Are we able to receive his gift? And, if we’re receiving all that God generously provides, we realize the Christmas Spirit doesn’t just happen once a year. In God’s generosity, we can receive and give his gifts every day of our lives.
This Christmas, pray for the grace to receive “The Gift” that keeps on giving.
Father Leo Patalinghug is a TV and radio host, best-selling author and founder of
This Christmas cookie recipe comes from one of my cooking videos, “Cooking for One.” Since I’m not a skilled baker (I’m a savory chef), I had to make a generous effort to learn this simple recipe using an ingredient I don’t like for cookies: oatmeal. But this recipe is delicious. It’s a recipe I was willing to receive, and now it’s a recipe I’m so very willing to give. This dough can easily be stored in the freezer and baked in small batches, which helps to avoid waste.
Ingredients to yield 24 cookies:
3/4 cup soft butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup of water
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 cups oatmeal
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
Baking Instructions for Cookies:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Make the Cookies:
Place 3/4 cup of room-temperature butter in a bowl; add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1/4 cup of water and one cracked egg. Mix together until fully incorporated.
Mix dry ingredients:
Combine 3 cups of oatmeal, 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon and 3/4 tsp. of baking soda, mixing thoroughly; then set aside.
Add the oatmeal mixture to the wet creamy mixture and mix until fully incorporated together.
Add 2 cups of chocolate chips and 1 cup chopped walnuts by hand.
Scoop 2-oz. balls of the desired amount of cookie dough and place onto baking sheet for immediate use.
Bake for about 15 minutes and then remove from oven, flattening down with a spatula and returning cookies to the oven for another three to five minutes.
Remove and let cool for about 10 minutes.
Scoop 2-oz. balls of cookie dough and place into a freezer bag, freezing cookie balls individually. When ready to bake, remove the desired amount of cookie balls and follow baking instructions.
— Father Leo Patalinghug