Essaying on thanksgiving wrestles with the dynamic of receiving and giving, which forms the fulcrum of being human. This dynamic affects the whole aspect of our lives, including natural and supernatural dimensions. It makes our urge to give to God and fellow humans a constant. It is not surprising since we live our lives as active participants in a circle of relationship with God and others. This dynamic of receiving and giving expresses our divine sonship and daughtership as active participants and never as spectators in the divine-family relationship. The reality of giving to God from the gifts he has given us accentuates our unique status as privileged sons and daughters.
In consequence, the privilege of administering his gifts serves as a means of worshipping him and serving the needs of our neighbours. In giving thanks, humans acknowledge that every good thing comes from God, and generally, they come through the instrumentality of others. God, the eternal generosity, never fails to provide for his household so that none is left starving. In that context, thanksgiving is a celebration of Thanksgiving: Paying Back or Paying Forward to God? this never-ending generosity of God, which implies that any true offertory keeps giving. As such, thanksgiving flows into ‘thanks-living’. To be specific, gratitude spells beatitude as an attitude of the one filled with grace. Rooted in grace, our acts of faith and love express the joy of salvation, which is gratuitous.
This grateful joy, which is both active and ‘performative’, expresses our awareness of the Lord’s gratuitousness and leads to a new level of depth in our appreciation of the prodigies of the Lord. This grace-consciousness drives our engagement with good works, informs the ministry of giving and landmarks one’s spiritual journey (cf. Matt. 6:2-4). ‘Tout est grace’ says the French. All is grace, and nothing escapes the gratuitous benevolence and gracious benefaction of God. “If everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Cor 4:7). All is grace and, for that, grace-attitude characterizes quality human existence.
This grace-attitude parses gratitude, the virtue by which one appreciates all as grace and takes all as granted. The appreciation of this giftedness of all we have and are inspires and motivates one to give thanks. However, not a few give thanks with a mentality of debt and repayment. God does not exchange his grace for our gratitude because it is always gratuitous. Grace is never subject to bargain. Simply, God does not barter his grace; He gives it. Though He has no need of our thanks, yet our thanksgiving fits within God’s universal government and supreme sovereignty of his love, benevolence and provision. He does not require us to pay back what he gives gratuitously (cf. Rom 5:6-8).
However, gratitude entails advancing the goodness so that his provision continues to create ripples of kindness and sparks up flames of love. In other words, thanksgiving frees gifts of God for a never-ending progression of generosity that benefits many more people. In that case, it serves the need to promote goodness inherent in God’s creation, especially in institutions and humans. Our gratitude innately stems from our existence as humans, who partakes in the gratuitous gifts of God the giver of all gifts, and participates in proclaiming his glory (cf. Psalm 19: 1-14).
Hence, all thanksgivings participate in the worship of God by their benefit to the Church and the poor. Precisely, thanksgiving is a way of paying forward to God with a substantial ramification of blessing his name and human flourishing. In consequence, true thanksgiving spells ‘thanks-living’ and thereby transforms doing to being. By its grace-consciousness, thanksgiving redeems us from self-referential congratulations, frees us from the lordship of ego and the ramifications of its grip, and thus heals us of pride, which always seeks to rule our will. In practice, therefore, the liberality of gifting is only an acknowledgment and affirmation that one’s life and possession are from God the creator of all good things for the benefit of all his children (cf. 2 Cor 8:1-5).
Through thanksgiving and the religious context of its administration, we fulfill this mission as trustees of divine treasures. In giving to the Church and the poor, we are carrying forward the salvific work, the establishment of the kingdom of God, which imperfectly exists as the Church. In other words, giving to the poor and the Church is a demonstration of an understanding that Christ is not a personage from the past but alive in the Spirit and glory, whose flesh we behold in the poor and whose body we touch as the Church. The Church is the mystical body of Christ and the poor are the individual Christ in the flesh. Giving to the Church to the negligence of the poor smacks spirituality that lacks authenticity and giving to the poor to the neglect of the Church is merely a social work that requires the spiritual depth and connection that makes it a profound expression of faith.
The Church affirms her authenticity in the measure she disposes of material and spiritual treasures for the benefit of all. In and through the Church, the kingdom, which has begun, journeys to perfection. So, when we give to the Church, it is because she is the bastion of godliness, the sign of the new world, the instrument of salvation and the communion of the just with God. The Church, despite the complications of the sins of her children, is the presence of God amidst his people. She takes care of God’s children. Therefore, the offerings and harvests are temporal means of raising fund for the flourishing of the kingdom (cf. John 10:10). Irrespective of the fact that some of her ministers administer them imperfectly, one neither cuts off the head to cure a headache nor burns a math book to solve a difficult algebra.
We continue to give to the Church as the mysterious way of giving to God and in the hope that she uses the gifts to take care of the poor. In truth, one can even write it in capital letters; it cannot be an exaggeration to argue that giving to the Church does not excuse from giving to the poor. It is not a dialectical ‘either … or’ but a dialogical ‘both … and’. By paying forward to God, we attend to our indebtedness to the needy so that our worship becomes meaningful. For as such, we become instruments for rescuing them and lifting people out of the quagmire of existential challenges.
Donating to the Church possesses value to the extent it aids in the universal government of creation (cf. 2 Cor 9:7). By helping the poor, we put ourselves at the disposition of God in fulfilling his fatherly role. It beats logic and coherence when a Church stockpiles wealth to the deprivation and detriment of the poor while servicing the exuberant lifestyle of her ministers. We do not pay back to God because his gifts are gratuitous, and no measure appreciates their worth. However, we pay forward so that his gifts keep giving as our participation in the universal reign of God. Let us give thanks to the Lord; it is necessary and just. Fr George ADIMIKE is of the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha