St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not Giving Money to the Church

Money is a sensitive issue, especially in the Catholic Church. It's been said before that if a priest talks about money even once, he's talked about it too much. After writing this, I'm sure some of my readers are about to tell me I've talked about it too much, and I'm not even a priest.

There's plenty of reasons (or excuses) not to give money to your parish church, some of them are better than others. Here's a few I've heard recently: There's still a lot of scorn from the priest abuse scandal, even on a good day. There's disagreement with magisterial teaching on abortion, marriage, or whatever topic you want to insert here.  The homilies are bad, the music is awful, or the pews are uncomfortable. My all time favorite: the Church just doesn't need it.

Well let's be clear. The Church definitely needs money, especially at the parish level. In fact, all the Church's problems, shortcomings, and dissension probably have made the need even greater.

Speaking practically, the Church has bills to pay. Lights, heating/air conditioning, water, maybe even a mortgage and other debt. The buildings and property need regular maintenance and upkeep. If you're a homeowner or manage a business, then you know what I'm talking about. One time walking into church, I heard the two women in front of me complaining about having to give money, then in the next breath complaining about how the parking lot was in poor shape. There was no realization that you have to have one to be able to fix the other.

The church also has to pay salaries. There's a notion that everybody in church is a volunteer, or that people who work for the church should do so for nothing. This is ecclesiastical hokum. Everyone deserves an appropriate wage for the work they do, especially people who have their employment with the Church. There's nothing wrong with paying the music director, the parish secretary, or the maintenance guy a half-decent salary to live on. If not, they'll eventually move on to other employers, not because they want to, but because they financially have to.

I can already hear some of the objections coming...  Here's my answers to a couple of them.

What about all that treasure and art at the Vatican? If the Church sold all of it, that would take care of the money problems. In a word, no. It's obvious that the wealth of the Church is unevenly distributed, however selling all the "spoils" in the Vatican Museums isn't the easy fix. First of all, this assumes that people would actually want to buy all of that stuff. (Funny how the people who suggests doing this don't offer to buy any of it.)  Secondly, a lot of those treasures were donated, blessed, or would just be scandalous to sell on eBay. For argument's sake, let's say the pope liquidates the Musei Vaticani and your pastor sells all the statues in the church. Eventually the money would run out and it would only be a matter of time before your local parish would have to pay bills again.  Then we would have no history, no art, uglier churches, and still the same money problems.

What if I really object with the way the money is used at my parish or diocese? I think this happens a lot more than people admit.  Besides talking to your pastor or joining the finance council, the easiest thing to do is to earmark or designate your contributions.  All parishes have a general offertory collection, but most parishes have other ways of giving.  My parish, for example, has several specific funds such as the maintenance fund, the debt fund, etc. that are managed separately from the general budget. Parishioners can also purchase items that the parish uses regularly, such as the altar bread/wine, candles, even office paper.  If giving to your parish still doesn't suit you, then I know plenty of other worthy Catholic social or educational organizations that could use your regular contribution. Whatever you do, don't let your disagreements with others prevent you from being generous.

So let's say you're ready to give to the Church, but you have no idea how much.  Some people say 10%, referring to tithing in the Old Testament.  That's great if you have the ability to do that, but most people I know simply can't, especially at first. Start off by giving the equivalent of one hour of wage or salary for your household. This way all the working members in your household can give the same amount, even though they have different incomes.  I don't know anyone who can't afford to give at least an hour's wage and it's a neat way to sanctify your employment, especially if you are consciously setting aside that hour.  If you're working full-time, an hour is actually a small percentage of your paycheck with room to give more when you can.

To be fair, there are some people that just cannot give financially.  There's no need to apologize if you're not working, on a fixed income, or you just don't have it.  But for a lot of people, the problem isn't affordability but rather how they spend their money. For example, take a look at your cable or satellite bill (if you don't have one, pick some other monthly cost that has to do with how you entertain yourself).  If your cable bill is $200 a month and your parish contribution is only $4 or $5 a month (depending on how many Sundays there are), then your beliefs aren't reflected in what you're doing with your money.

Last point.  A lot of times, people give out of their surplus (meaning the spare change in your pocket or that extra canned vegetable that you don't really care about).  There's nothing wrong with this and its good to do, but it's superficial compared to what we could be doing. We have a Savior who completely gave Himself by dying on a cross, showing us what real giving entails.  Sacrificial giving is heroic, makes you dig deep, and will push you far from your comfort zone. It probably won't come to dying, but it might mean skipping a meal or going without some necessity so that we can truly give from within ourselves. Giving sacrificially is hard. Personally I may never fully achieve it, but it's worth striving for.

St Ignatius of Loyola said it best in his generosity prayer:
teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve You as You deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward
save that of knowing I am doing your will.

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