Advent is upon us, and with it, for better or worse, the season of giving.

Too often,  the season of giving.“spirit of giving” degenerates into a frenzied pursuit of material possessions, stripping away the joy that should permeate our preparation for Christmas.

While there is nothing wrong with lovingly exchanging material presents with those close to us at Christmas time, perhaps this Advent would be a good time to reflect on a more important gift we should always be conscious of offering to others: the gift of Faith. Especially as we begin the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, and our diocese embarks on an effort to invite less active Catholics to “belong more deeply” to Christ and His Church, we might think about how we can help give the gift of faith to others, in our families, our parishes, communities, schools and workplaces.

Elsewhere in this inaugural TLIC magazine issue, we read the transformative faith stories of two young Catholic women, and the roles that the faith of their families played in their transformations. For Erica Boden, the seeds first planted by her grandmother, who took her to Mass every Sunday, were in recent years brought to fruition through the support of her sister and husband. Alexis Ramsook credits her parents with sowing those seeds of faith — seeds that would, in adulthood, bring her back to active involvement in the Church — first through their own teaching, and then by seeing to it that she received a good Catholic high school education. Alexis now teaches the Catholic religion to high school students whose parents are likewise trying to give their children the gift of faith.

These are timely reminders of the wonderful opportunities we have to offer that gift to those we love. Critical to doing so, however, is our own example. We should of course utilize our Church’s formation programs to see to our children’s religious training and preparation for the sacraments; but our best teaching tool is the witness of our own faith lives. Erica’s grandmother did not just make her go to Mass; she went with her, they worshipped together, and Erica witnessed the depth of her grandmother’s faith. Alexis’s parents likewise gave example by their own practice of the faith, and by learning that faith themselves so they could teach it to their children.

All Catholic parents and other adult relatives need to similarly think about how we are witnessing the importance of faith to our children. It does little good to see to their faith formation and reception of the sacraments, if they see us not attending Mass or receiving the sacraments regularly ourselves. Our example undermines what our children are being taught.

Similarly in our communities and schools or workplaces, our example will most certainly influence the impressions others form of the Catholic faith. Do we conduct ourselves — in our treatment of others, in our business dealings, in our civic responsibility — in ways that give witness to the truth of our Church’s teachings, and to the presence of God in our lives? Do others “know we are Christians by our love?” Or does our behavior give the impression that there is nothing in the Catholic Church that is worth their time, or worthy of their faith?

As we use this Advent season to invite inactive Catholics back, to worship and to parish life, we might also think about the witness we will give to them. Will they experience the loving welcome that Alexis did when she first visited St. Theresa of Avila parish in New Jersey? When they join us for worship, will our comportment give testament to how central the Mass is — or should be — to our lives? Do we arrive on time, dress appropriately, participate actively in prayer and song, and listen attentively to the proclamation of the Word? When we receive the Eucharist, does our prayerful reverence testify that we believe — that we know — that what we are receiving is the miraculous gift of the body and blood of Jesus Christ?

We cannot give to others what we do not have ourselves. This Advent, as we prepare to exchange material gifts with those we love, let’s also prepare ourselves — by first strengthening our own faith — to give to others the greatest gift we have to offer: the gift of faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Rick Hinshaw is the editor of The Long Island Catholic Magazine.