Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
The sharing of gifts

by Dennis Heaney

(From the Dec. 6, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney Many years ago, I belonged to an organization whose Christmas service project asked members to be Salvation Army bell ringers. I rang the bell for a couple of hours on three occasions at a major shopping area in Minneapolis, and years later I still have vivid impressions of that experience.

I remember one day in particular when the temperature was around 10 below and I stood there thinking that my stint would never end and, worse, that I’d never warm up again. We’d been advised to dress in our warmest outerwear and gloves and, above all, make sure our feet were well insulated. I did exactly as instructed – and then some – but even now, as I retell that story, I can feel the cold.

However, I also remember how pleasant the passers-by were and how so many went out of their way to greet me, including a number who put money in the kettle and then thanked me. That whole experience said a lot about the basic goodness of people.

But my most lasting impression was about the people who actually gave the money. Time and time again, I was struck by the number of parents who gave money to their young ones and walked them up the kettle to drop it in. Judging by appearances, I think a significant number of those families didn’t have much money to give away.

I thought back on that experience recently when I was visiting with my friend Dr. Owen Phelps on our Christopher Closeup radio show. Owen is the author of The Secret of Wealth, a book that he’s quick to explain in the introduction is not about how to grow rich. Instead, he defines wealth as the abundance that one experiences in life, and which makes our lives better.

During our discussion, Owen cited studies showing that poorer people spend a higher percentage of their income on charity then do wealthier people. Maybe that’s because poorer people know more about need. But when we read almost every day about some corporate executive or sport star being paid an outrageously high salary I find myself wondering how much these individuals recognize their own good fortune, as well as their inherent responsibility to share with others less fortunate.

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that poorer people teach all of us a great lesson. Most of us can find the wherewithal in our pockets to share with someone who needs it more then we do.

I see that in the mail that comes to The Christophers. Sometimes we receive a dollar from a person living solely on his or her Social Security, along with a note that says they’re sorry they can’t do more. These beautiful people share the “widow’s mite” and we appreciate it.

A friend once told me of the regular meetings he had with his children about how their family would donate money in the weeks to come. Believe me, they didn’t have a lot extra to give away, but he was teaching his children, by example, about sharing their blessings.

It’s important to involve our children in the giving process, whether we’re talking about a dollar or thousands of dollars. When they realize that God has given them gifts, there’s great joy – both to the giver and the recipient – when those blessings are shared.

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “Giving from the Heart,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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