As we begin the new Liturgical Year (which always points us to eternity), a central concept in the Theology of the Body comes to mind: Gift. “All of creation is to be received as a gift.”

Notice the word received. Not just some things but everything is to be received as a gift. Not just someone but everyBODY is to be received as a gift. When we are in the posture of receptivity—of receiving—an attitude of gratitude is the proper response. And gratitude is essential in religion.

Dr. Peter Kreeft, in his book, How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, retells an exciting story of Father W. Norris Clarke, S.J., who visited Tibet to see how Buddhist monks lived the life of holiness. The Buddhist abbot proposed this experiment to Fr. Clarke: 

Our religions are very different, but I think our hearts are not so different. I would like to test that idea if you agree. Let us each answer the same question and compare our answers. My question is: What is the single most essential attitude of the human heart that is necessary for any religion? I will also ask this question to three of my monks. I have never asked them this question before, so they will have to answer from their hearts. Let us write our answers on five pieces of paper and then unfold them and read them aloud. Father Clarke agreed that was an excellent experiment. When the five slips of paper were unfolded, the same word appeared on all five: “gratitude” (p. 146-147).

Fr. Clarke was impressed and then asked for what they were grateful for. “The reply was: ‘For everything. For matter, for mind, for life, for death, for everything that has existed, for the mystery of existence itself.’” Fr. Clarke, once again, thought that was profound. Finally, Fr. Clarke acknowledged that they don’t believe in a Creator-God, so he asked them: “…to whom are you grateful?” “We do not know the answer to that question.” Fr. Clarke smiled and said, “Well, we do.” (p. 147). 

Our loving God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—showers down gifts that He wants us to receive with an attitude of gratitude. God’s very pattern of love includes receptivity: giving, receiving, and the bond of love. We image God the most when we live out this blueprint of love. 

From Theology of the Body Marriage Preparation, page 6.

I want to encourage each of us to make the TOB words, gift and receive, a normal part of our nomenclature. How so? 

When a clerk checks out your groceries at the store, instead of saying, “Thank you,” say, “Thank you. I gratefully receive your gift of self.”

Instead of “I appreciate it” at the bank, try to say, “You have quite the gift with numbers. I benefit from your gift. Thank you.”

After Mass, when speaking with your pastor, instead of “Nice homily,” say, “Your gift of self in what you shared touched me. Thank you, Father.” 

To your children who shared something with you. Instead of, “I’m glad you shared,” say, “You are a gift to me when you confide in me. I will always try to be a gift by receiving your vulnerable gift.” 

After a Christmas gift exchange, go up to each person and say, “I receive your gift with a warm heart. Thank you.” 

When someone does something big or small, say, “ “I receive your gift to me. My day is brighter because of your gift of self.” 

Perhaps you think these phrases sound awkward—and you are right. However, language matters, and when gift and receptivity are part of our everyday speech, they add to and elevate our relationships, reminding us that what someone does for us is a free gift, a vulnerable posture, deserving of proper receptivity. We teach this vital concept to second graders in our book, The Body Is a Gift

Being fallen humans, this won’t always work out. But rest assured. St. John Paul II—guided by Scripture and Tradition—gives us a fantastic vision of Heaven where our gift of self is always appropriately received and where we will be experts in receptivity, for we will experience the giving, receiving, and bonding of perfect Love with God and all the saints for eternity. 

Let’s practice the posture of receptivity with an attitude of gratitude this new liturgical year; it’s formation for eternity!

Monica Ashour is the President and Co-founder of Theology of the Body Evangelization Team.