“Not more service hours…can we babysit or pick up some trash? Do we have to visit a nursing home or what?” These are the statements so many teens make when faced with service obligations. However for many service can open up a new understanding of the love of God for humanity. I imagine this must have been the attitude of Maria a senior at Assumption, a local Catholic High School, when she volunteered to do one of the Corporal Works of Mercy – To bury the dead. She and a few classmates went together for service to an indigent cemetery and attended a burial. There were only 2 other people attending. Maria stood at the foot of this man’s grave and realized there were no family members, no true friends surrounding him as he went to his final resting place. There was no gravestone to give testament to his existence. There were only a few people gathered “volunteering” their time. This scene was etched into her heart and soul.
That day she approached her mom “Mom, how much do you spend on my Christmas presents each year?” Her mom a bit taken back replied “You don’t need to know that information. Why do you ask?” Maria was so profoundly touched by this situation that she asked her mom to forgo all Christmas presents this year and instead purchase a gravestone for the man that was buried that day. Her mom could not say no to such an unselfish request. Maria and her parents were in touch with a place that sells gravestones and Maria picked out what would be engraved. The salesman asked if she wanted her name somewhere on the stone. Maria refused, you see it was not about her, it was about his life and the proof that he lived.
On Christmas Eve Maria and her parents will gather at the indigent graveyard and say a blessing over the gravestone and the grave of this man, this stranger she never laid eyes upon. This man she will never know yet she will be connected to for a lifetime. Maria understands the true meaning of giving. She is only 18 years old but did not ask for an I pad or a new car instead she asked for a symbol of dignity to be given to another human life, one she had no knowledge of before she stepped foot into that small, plain cemetery. She was not doing service hours; she will no longer take part in a service project for in that moment God gave Maria clarity of His gifts to her that she will now share with others freely. This is the purest gift of Christmas; the gift of a stranger to love another stranger in action and from the heart.