I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Justice of the Supreme Court, 1902-1932
These fall weeks are the time of our annual stewardship renewal in the parish. Justice Holmes makes an important point. We have to pay for things we value. And, to reverse the thought, we show what we value by what we pay for.
In that spirit, I have to say I’m amazed by the generosity of some parishioners. I know what some of you give up in order to support the parish. The Gospel story of the widow giving her last remaining two coins to the temple comes to mind when I hear some of your stories, and it’s genuinely humbling. We couldn’t do all the good we do without your sacrifice. So you have my thanks, and no doubt the thanks of the hundreds of anonymous people your giving helps with both practical and spiritual assistance.
What is a genuine sacrifice for one household might be small change for another; so there’s no easy way to figure what appropriate stewardship for any household is in dollars unless you know that household’s circumstances. (The traditional religious benchmark is 10% of income. But if you’re trying to raise a family with three kids on $40,000 a year, ten percent would be quite a hit. If you make a half-million a year, the mortgage is paid off, and the kids are on their own, ten percent is probably too low – you could almost certainly spare more.)
So this is a matter for self-examination. Start with an acknowledgement of what God has given to you, including your financial resources. (If you have medical coverage that someone else pays for – your employer or the government through Medicare or Medicaid – you might want to add that in as income too.) And then add up how much you’ve given to the parish for the year so far. Figure the percentage, if you’d care to. And ask: Is this a fair return to God for what God has given to me?
National surveys tell us that Catholics typically give about 1.5% of their income to charity (not just to church). In The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic Matthew Kelly tells the story of his figuring his own percentage (it was about 2%), and then committing to increasing that number by 1% a year until he reached 10%. My own story, which I’ve told before, is about the same. My personal target is now 15% because that makes sense for me; but yours is probably different. I ask you to do two things this week: first, figure out what percentage of your annual income you give to the parish; then ask yourself if this is an appropriate response to what God is giving you. If it’s not, set a goal to increase your giving.
Jesus, Bible experts tell us, talked most about two main things: the “kingdom of God” (God’s new way of doing things, full of justice for the poor and mercy for everyone), and our use of money. He knew that, as we heard in the Gospel several weeks ago, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Our use of money opens a window onto our values – what we cherish and are willing to sacrifice to support.
So the act of figuring what percentage one donates is, at root, a spiritual exercise: It tells us something about our values. We discover what we truly want by looking at what we are willing to pay for. Until next week, peace.