I’ve heard a few things from parishioners since I spoke two weeks ago about our financial situation. A very few were angry – but I expected that. (Old Air Force bomber pilot saying: “If you’re not getting flak, you’re not over the target.”) Many were generally encouraging, along the “I wish you luck” line. A few were very positive: “We’ll do our part.” (Notice the difference between “I wish you luck,” which takes no personal responsibility – although that could have been simply a conventional response given in a moment of shock – and the personal commitment of “We’ll do our part.”) But one in particular stood out for me, and I want you to know about it (keeping the person’s identity confidential, of course).
After I spoke at one of the Masses and was back in my office, the secretary buzzed me to say someone wanted to speak to me. I invited him in, and he told me his story. He had, in fact, come to a second Mass to listen to the talk again, and he had made a decision. He had been saving up for his children’s Christmas gifts, and he wanted the parish to have some of that money. I asked him to delay and think and pray about it, not wanting to accept anything motivated by an impulse that might later be regretted. But he was determined, and pressed something into my hand saying that he was sure that God would see to it that he and his children would be the beneficiaries. (I’m paraphrasing; I don’t remember the exact words, but this was his meaning). I put what he gave me into the safe, and then I sat there, stunned.
I’m not going to draw any moral from the story; it speaks for itself. But I want to tell you what I’ve been thinking about since that Sunday two weeks ago.
Simply, it’s this: The money you contribute to Our Lady of Grace is a sacred trust that you put into my hands and the hands of the Pastoral Council, the Finance Council, and the staff and volunteer leaders. We almost never know where that money comes from – and don’t want to. It may be from your recent winnings at Atlantic City, or from what you were saving for your children’s Christmas gifts. It may hurt your own spending on other things not at all, or a little, or a great deal. As I said, we don’t want to know where it comes from – that’s between you and God. But what I and other people in parish leadership need never to forget is that your contributions are offered in good faith to God, and entrusted to us to use well for the parish’s mission.
I’m confident that we do use your offerings well. I have seen to it that we publish comprehensive budgets and financial reports every year since I’ve become pastor because I believe I and others in parish leadership have that responsibility to you. I can tell you that the priests live simply here – there is no excess in the residence. We probably don’t even spend enough on staff-development for department directors and volunteer leaders, because we haven’t had the money; there are certainly no exotic seminars or trips in the budget. And we’re good stewards (or try our best to be) with utilities. We’ve switched all lighting to LEDs or energy-efficient fluorescents, we keep the heat and AC units in repair and the filters clean, we set the thermostats warmer in summer than we used to and cooler in the winter. (If you experience the church as over-warm or -cool, that may be because it’s a nightmare to get right: the sunlight through the south windows can cause the sides to be at different temperatures, and the body-heat of people filling then emptying the church plays havoc with the thermostat settings….)
If you’re a serious giver, you have a right to know how and where your offerings are spent. (By “serious” I don’t mean “high-amount”: I mean, “sacrificing.” A retiree living only on Social Security who puts $10 a week into the collection may be far more serious – may feel the loss more and make more of a sacrifice – than a high-wage giver who puts $100 in. Money in itself doesn’t “buy” standing or access. Only serious, sacrificial commitment to our Gospel mission does that.)
It’s very reassuring for me to know, from the parishioners who have approached me since that talk two weeks ago, just how many of you are deeply dedicated to the flourishing of Our Lady of Grace – and not simply as an idea, but at significant cost. Whatever the future shape of our parish, I’m confident that God will see that no sacrifice is wasted – and that there will be gifts at Christmas and beyond for everyone who imitates His generosity.
More next week.
Until then, peace.