I know that many parishioners have had tough times financially since the economic collapse of 2008, and others from the effects of Sandy. I also know that many parishioners are retired, and struggling with inadequate Social Security and/or pensions. (About 1/3 of our parishioners describe themselves as retired and/or disabled.) I certainly don’t want to have struggling people feel that our Sacrificial Giving Renewal just adds to their burdens. I’ll be writing about money and giving for the next four weeks because it’s important to our souls and our discipleship.
As the Gospels describe Him, Jesus preached more often about wealth and poverty than about any other topic except the “Kingdom of God.” So we might conclude that how we think and act about money has a major bearing on our salvation. (You can think of His sayings about this for yourself – I’ll only mention camels and needles, a certain rich man with a beggar at his gate, another rich man – young, this time – with a question for Jesus….) If we feel anxiety or guilt about money, that’s largely because our culture (and probably our families while we were growing up) had their effect on us; we need to get beyond that if we’re to mature as disciples. Let’s start with the basic idea: Stewardship.
Our faith tells us that we humans were created by, and remain dependent on, God. What we have comes from God. Our talents and financial resources are gifts from God, given to us for a purpose: to care for and improve God’s creation. (Thus Adam and Eve are to “tend the garden” in the story in Genesis.) The gift of faith we’ve been given makes this more specific for us: God has called us to a share in the work of His Son. Thus we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” as Jesus taught us. But we are not only to pray: We are to work for the coming of God’s kingdom: and for that work God has given us the necessary supplies of time, talent, and money.
God has also, providentially, placed certain parts of creation into our particular care. Our own lives and health, our families and close friends, our neighborhood, our country, our workplace or school – God has sent us to each to have a hand in its flourishing. So, too, God has sent us to our community of faith – our parish – to contribute to its flourishing. The saving work of God is done today, for most of us, around two tables: the family dinner-table, and the Eucharistic table of the Mass. God gives us resources to support each appropriately.
Last spring in the State of the Parish talk I said we’re in new territory, and we can’t go on as we have been. Culture has changed, the needs have changed, and our resources have changed. We have three main things to do: worship God, care for the poor, and help parents to form their children into disciples. We may have to do those things in different ways, and other parts of our parish life may have to be subordinated to keeping those key works going. What we’re able to do depends on what you share of the gifts God has entrusted to you. You can see our financial report summary on the next page, and it isn’t pretty. Some of you make tremendous sacrifices to keep the work of Christ alive here – others, (from outward appearances), maybe not so much.
In our last Gallup survey (2010 – we don’t have the 2013 results yet), some 43% of parishioners self-reported that their household income was over $40,000 a year. I know that’s not much on Long Island, but I still have to ask: One percent – a penny from each dollar – of $40,000 is $400 a year. How many parish households give that much in the collection? Under 500. I encourage you to figure out your own percentage during the next week. Take your annual (or weekly, or monthly) income, and your contributions to Our Lady of Grace over a comparable span: What percentage of what God has given to you do you give back to God’s work? How important is our parish’s mission to change lives through Christ from the evidence of your checkbook? Is the work of Christ here a value that you’re willing to support – even make some sacrifices for? Or does God get the leftovers?
These weeks of sacrificial giving renewal are an invitation to take stock: First, of what God has given to you; second, of who and what God has placed in your care; and third, of how to be responsible with your gifts and commitments. More next week. Until then, peace,