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Father Richard Kunst: ‘What we own, we owe’: advice for the next homily about money

As we all know, the priesthood is a pretty unique profession. From the faith perspective, we call it a vocation, because that is what it is — a calling from God. From a secular perspective, it is a very unique job for many reasons, one of which I am sure we hardly give thought to: Other than maybe teachers, who speak to their students following a particular curriculum, Catholic priests are one of the very few professions that speak to an audience every day.

Father Richard Kunst

Besides Sundays, most priests I know give homilies every single day, with the exception of the occasional day off. Protestant ministers might have a Wednesday evening service, but they don’t do anything like the priest does in having daily Mass and daily preaching. If I were to “spitball” a guess, I have probably given around 8,500 homilies in my 23 years of priesthood, which means among other things I am really good at reading the audience. Because we priests talk most every day in front of an audience, we know how to read a crowd.

In mentioning this, I will say that there are two subjects that most make people squirm in their pews: when a priest is perceived to be getting “too political” and money. I will explain a different way to look at money, so that the next time you hear the priest tee up a homily on the subject you will get less squeamish.

When a pastor is assigned to a particular parish, it becomes his responsibility on every level to maintain it and hopefully get it to thrive. Priests do not own their parishes, but they do have great authority over them. They are, in essence, entrusted with the parish for a limited period of time, whether that be two years or 12 years, and eventually the time comes when the priest relinquishes his authority over the parish to his successor. This can be difficult, because we priests put our whole selves into a parish community, and just like that we no longer have anything to do with that parish once we are reassigned.

To make this a little less “priestly,” think of land that you might own, whether it is land your house is built on or property you have invested in. The fact is, you really don’t own land, you just own the right to do what you want with the land for a period of time. That same land was here during the time of the dinosaurs, and before Christopher Columbus showed up, and it will still be here long after your great, great, grandchildren die of old age. You do not own it, rather you are entrusted with it for a finite period of time.

It is not all that dissimilar when it comes to our money. Yes, we can spend money and use it up, but chances are much of our money will be here even after we are not. In reality the United States government owns the money. We simply earn the right to use it. (This is why it is actually against the law to deface currency.) So when it comes to the money we have earned the right to use — the money we have been entrusted with for a time — we need to ask ourselves how we are using it.

We would be foolish to think that we are only responsible for our needs and the needs of our family. There is a plethora of examples in both the Old and New Testaments that make that point clear. We would also be foolish to think we will not be judged in part by how we use the blessings God gave us. He has never bestowed blessings on anyone for their own selfish purposes; blessings are never meant just for the people who have received them.

The famous rabbi Abraham Heschel once wrote, “Everything we own, we owe.” That is not only a Jewish concept, it is also a Christian one. In the big picture of things, we don’t own anything on this blue dot we call earth, we simply get to use it for a time, then we are gone and someone else gets to use it.

So when the next money homily comes along, try not to squirm. Instead, consider how to properly use what God gives you for the time allotted, remembering that whatever he has given you is never meant just for you and your family.

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected].