Friday, February 4, 2011

In giving, do we receive?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

We are in the government's staging period. There are disputes over offices and duties on the part of parties and politicians. Negotiations are taking place, laden with interests and a lot of vanity. In this context, we hear mentioned this topic of the inspiring prayer of St. Francis for peace, "it is in giving that we receive", to justify the exchange of favors and support where there's also a lot of money. It's a clumsy manipulation of the generous and selfless spirit of St. Francis. But let's put aside these deviations and look at its true meaning.

There are two economies: the one of material goods and the one of spiritual goods. They each follow different logics. In the economy of material goods, the more you give goods, clothes, houses, land and money, the less you have. If someone gives without prudence and spends without control, he ends up in poverty. In the economy of the spiritual, on the contrary, the more you give, the more you get; the more you give up, the more you have. That is, the more you give love, devotion and acceptance (spiritual things), the more you gain as a person and the more you rise in the esteem of others. Spiritual goods are like love: they multiply when divided. Or, like fire, they increase as they spread.

We understand this paradox, considering the basic structure of the human being. He is a being of unlimited relationships. The more he relates to others, or rather, reaches out of himself towards the other, the one who is different, nature and God, that is, the more he gives acceptance and love, the richer he is, the more he is decorated with values, the more he grows and radiates as a person.

Therefore, it is in giving that one receives. Many times you get so much more than what you give. Isn't this the experience witnessed by so many who give time, dedication and goods to help victims of the social and environmental catastrophe that occurred in the hilltop cities of Rio de Janeiro, during this sad month of January, when hundreds were killed and thousands left homeless? This selfless "giving" produces a tremendous spiritual effect that is feeling more human and enriched. They become good people, so needed today.

When someone who has, gives their property within the economic logic of spiritual goods to support those who lost everything and help them rebuild their lives and homes, they experience the inner satisfaction of being with someone in need and can testify to what St. Paul said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35). Someone who isn't poor feels spiritually rich.

There is therefore a circular relationship between giving and receiving, a true reciprocity. This represents, in a larger sense, the logic of the universe, as biologists and astrophysicists never tire of emphasizing. Everything -- galaxies, stars, planets, inorganic and organic beings, even the elementary particles -- everything is structured in an extremely intricate network of inter-retro-relationships of all with all. All things co-exist, inter-exist, they help each other, give and receive reciprocally what they need to co-exist and evolve within a subtle dynamic balance.

Our tragedy is that we learn nothing from nature. We take everything from the Earth and don't give anything back, not even time to rest and regenerate. We only receive and we give nothing. This lack of reciprocity has brought the Earth to the current imbalance.

Therefore it's urgent to vigorously incorporate the economy of the spiritual into the economy of material goods. Only then will we restore the reciprocity of giving and receiving. There would be less wealth in the hands of the few and the many poor would stop being in need and could sit at the table, eating and drinking the fruit of their labor. It makes more sense to share than accumulate, to enhance the well-being of all rather than greedily seek the private good. What do we take from the Earth? Only the spiritual capital goods. The material capital stays.

The important thing is to give, give ... and give again. Only then do you receive. And the Franciscan truth is proven -- that "it is in giving that we receive" uninterrupted love, appreciation and forgiveness. Beyond that, everything is commerce and a vanity fair.

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