afternoon was a glorious October day here on the border between Iowa and
Nebraska – in the heart of the heartland – the very center of the U.S. “bread
basket.” The sun shone warm, the temperature a moderate mid-sixties,
and as I returned with my husband from a small farming community in western
Iowa where we had participated in the funeral liturgy for one of his cousins
we both reflected on the rich harvest that we were driving through.
The big machines in the fields cutting great swaths of corn, wheat and other
grains, the overflowing vegetable stands at the intersections of every road
and highway, trees groaning with apples and berries; all around us the earth
was extravagantly “giving back” all that had been planted and nourished there.
Such wealth invites us to gratitude. In fact, as we meditate on the
harvest of material gifts around us we are challenged to the fullness of
gratitude. Yes indeed! But what is gratitude? How do we
manifest gratitude? Speech alone only weakly expresses our deepest
feelings, and it is paltry gratitude from which the spoken word alone says
our “thanks.” As one of the college students said to me in a conversation
several weeks ago, “How do I know I am genuinely grateful and not just self-congratulatory
when I acknowledge my gifts?”
The readings from today’s liturgy provide the clue to this riddle.
I am truly grateful when I am generous with the many gifts that have been
poured out for me. I am grateful – that is, I recognize that I am not
the source of the bounty I enjoy – when I cooperate in seeing that others
also enjoy the bounty. When I have more than I need, it is gratitude
that compels me to enact the virtue of justice by seeking those who do not
have enough and sharing the wealth.
But the virtue of generosity calls me beyond justice to the virtue of love
itself. It is out of love that I contribute even from poverty.
When I share the little that I think I have to have to survive on then God’s
own Spirit is operating within. When I write the check, serve the soup, care
for the elder or child – it is God’s Spirit who is feeding, comforting, clothing
– just as it is Jesus who receives the food, comfort and clothing.
The wonderful “twist” on this is that when God operates so intimately with
us as to express the Divine Self as both Donor and Recipient in the actions
of our hands and hearts with others, then we are the “sacraments” – the stuff
of God’s real presence and we who think we are giving are, in fact, receiving
riches beyond our wildest imagining.
Thus we see the movement of the Eucharist itself. The very act of giving
of ourselves for the sake of a wounded, needy, hungry world (talent, time
and treasure) gives us God’s Self. Thus we never “take” communion;
we become communion. Perhaps this is the reason we are most dissatisfied
with the arguments about who can receive communion at liturgy that have been
going on throughout this recent political campaign season. We can’t
“take” or even just “receive” God’s Real Presence, i.e. communion with God,
without being the mediation of God’s presence for others by the donation
of our lives and our goods that God has asked us to share out.
Today’s liturgy tells us that thanksgiving is about generosity, not about
hoarding. Hoarding is the work of those who are afraid. Love
of money is grounded in fear, and fear is always the work of the “dark,”
the enemy of God. Those who “love money,” Jesus tells us, try to justify
themselves to others for their esteem – but such esteem of money and the
power it seems to give is an “abomination in the sight of God.” The
one who loves God “is steadfast and shall not fear” sings the psalmist, such
“generosity shall endure forever.”