All, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

A Lesson from the Little Drummer Boy

This past Sunday was the first day of the liturgical season of Advent, a special time in which we prepare to remember and celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas as well as to welcome Him anew into our lives and hearts. It also serves as a reminder that we will meet Him one day face-to-face and that He will judge the world at the end of time.

One of the primary points of the homily during Mass this past Sunday was the obligation we have to use our gifts and talents for the glory of God and as a means of preparation for His coming. The priest said that God has given us these gifts for the specific day and age in which we live. And we must use our talents to build up the Church and the world.

Later that day the thought occurred to me that the Christmas song The Little Drummer Boyexemplifies this message.

The impoverished Little Drummer Boy wants desperately to give a gift to the newborn Christ Child but has nothing of material value to offer, so he plays his drum, that is, he uses his talent for the baby Jesus. His simple offering of music in love pleases the Baby Who smiles at him in return. His offering of the intangible talent is his gift.

I think we can learn something of extraordinary value from this gentle Christmas carol. A lesson succinctly summed up in the following quote:

“Our talents are the gift that God gives to us. …What we make of our talents is our gift back to God.”

-Leo Buscaglia

The Bible says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” -Colossians 3:17

I think it’s easy to downplay or discredit our skills and gifts as unimportant or to disassociate them from our spiritual and religious lives. Or we can wrongfully use our talents primarily as a means of self-gratification and aggrandizement.

The truth is God wants us to discover, to nurture, and to build up the talents He has bestowed on us to bring His light and joy to others. When we do this, we glorify Him. How we do this likely will change as we journey through the different stages and phases of our lives, but as the parable of the talents in the Gospels illustrates, we will be called to account for how we made use of what we were given (Matthew 25:14-30).

The cultivation and sharing of our talents can truly be a means to our own growth in sanctity and joy.

And “talents” can encompass an array of gifts. Certainly, things like artistic skills or athletic ability or eloquent writing or an aptitude for science and medicine or even impressive culinary skills. All of these things, undoubtedly, can be a conduit for the uplifting of others.

But less obvious qualities can also be a talent. The knack for making people laugh. A gift of being a good listener or being able to diffuse a tense situation and be a peacemaker. A compassion for others’ hardships and the willingness to offer quiet encouragement. The list could go on and on.

We all have multiple talents and characteristics, and they are meant to build up those around us, for we all bear God’s image.

In his Advent homily, Father also spoke about how each person’s talents are a different reflection of God.

That is a really cool idea to ponder.

Just think about it: artists, musicians, dancers can be a reflection of God’s beauty. Athletes can reflect His strength. A scientific or mathematical proclivity, His orderliness. That ready, listening ear, His love and gentleness. Of course, God is not just beautiful and strong. He is beauty. He is might and love. But His creation can and does mirror Who He is.

As a professional ballerina, I feel so grateful that it is built into my job to have the opportunity to touch people’s hearts and raise their spirits in both ticketed productions as well as outreach shows at elementary schools and assisted living facilities.

It makes what I do so much more meaningful and gratifying. Especially at this holiday and family-oriented time of year, it is a good reminder for me that I am a part of helping create special memories for children and adults alike, even as the weeks-long run of Nutcracker performances can sometimes be wearying.

As we prepare for Christmas during this season of Advent and as we plot and scheme about tangible holiday presents, I hope I can remember the Little Drummer Boy and the surpassing value of those intangible gifts we all have to share, not only at this time of year but throughout our lives.

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All, Culture/Life, Faith

“Bid our sad divisions cease”

Pope St. John Paul II was known to speak about advancing the “culture of life” over the “culture of death.”  There are many perspectives from which one can view these phrases.  The “culture of death” can refer to the acceptance of abortion, assisted suicide, and the death penalty.  Whether you agree or disagree with these practices as political and social issues, I hope most people would concur that it is tragic when death is imposed as the solution to a situation.

Besides physical death, however, there are other ways in which this culture of death is pervasive, namely, through the destruction of people’s dignity.  Human trafficking and pornography are just two examples.  In both of these cases, human beings are reduced to objects to be used for other people’s pleasure.

A more everyday example is in the increasing divisiveness we are witnessing in families and in the culture at large–the “us vs. them” mentality that has people demonizing and demeaning those who disagree with them, sometimes in very cruel and defamatory ways.  People so often fail to truly try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes or to try to understand the other person’s vantage point.

There is a way to disagree with someone, even about contentious topics like the ones mentioned above, without being disrespectful or assuming the worst in the other person.  Discussion is important and disagreements are inevitable, especially as some of the issues the culture is facing go to the very heart of even what it is means to be a man or a woman.  But it is also crucial to develop prudence, to know the time and the place in which it is best to speak one’s mind.  Moreover, it is sometimes better to remember the old adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  One’s beliefs may very well be closer aligned with truth and virtue than those of the person with whom one is speaking but acting like a sanctimonious know-it-all will never influence anyone positively.  No one as an individual person, no matter how correct his beliefs, has a monopoly on goodness.  We all sin; we all make mistakes; we all have bad habits, and something we may easily forget, we can all learn from each other.

On the other hand, political correctness and attempting to sugar coat the realities of life are also a discredit to people. Common sense cannot be lost.

If we can speak with humility and love and try to understand the other person then maybe some of this awful divisiveness can be overcome, and a culture of life can begin to be built little by little.

One of the last verses of the Christian Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel” states, “O come, O King of Nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace!”  These words, which will always be applicable to the human condition, seemed this year to be even more like a prayer fitting our day and age.

Let us pray and let us work to make 2017 a more peaceful, respectful, loving year, despite our differences.

candles