Need last-minute ideas for Christmas gifts?

Here’s one: How about the gift of service?

Even when people do not have “the economic means” to give to others, “every one of us has the ability to pray and find a way to be of service,” said Detroit Cardinal Adam J. Maida in a pastoral letter on the economy, “Christ Our Hope,” issued in early December.

In the letter he offered hope and encouragement to those suffering hardships, and urged Catholics to show charity and solidarity to others in this time of difficulty.

Serving others at any time of year but particularly during this Christmas season might be the best present we can give to others — and to ourselves as it turns out.

In a Dec. 16 story in The Washington Post, Mark Snyder, director of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota said what those who volunteer regularly already probably know — volunteering improves people’s own self-esteem and gives them a deeper understanding of themselves and others.

In 2007 a study conducted by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service concluded that volunteering also helps people out physically, lowering rates of depression and reducing chronic pain. So if by now you haven’t finished that shopping list, a gift of time might be just the right item.

Or you can make a donation in a family member’s name to an agency that serves people or buy a gift card for a family member that he or she can redeem for a favorite charity.

One Web site that promotes this is JustGive, a San Francisco-based organization. It lists about a thousand legitimate charities in 19 categories, including many diocesan Catholic Charities agencies and national Catholic organizations such as Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. and Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities. The site is part of a movement to redefine Christmas gift-giving and promote more charity and less materialism.

Other sites touting holiday philanthropy include Network for Good, which also includes in its database a number of local and national Catholic organizations.

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