In the years that I have been a priest, the vast majority of my parishioners have known that my least favorite subject to talk about is money. But I have had some of the parishes that actually think it is my very favorite subject to preach about! This is because some parishes as a whole do better than others in their charity and support of the church.
I am speaking in general terms here; all parishes have very generous people, and all parishes have very stingy people, but some parishes as a whole do better than others when it comes to supporting the mission of the church in general and their parish specifically.
As pastors it can be a source of stress when people are not generous enough to the mission of the parish, because like any institution, the parish needs money to function, so if the parishioners are not generous in their giving, it truly hampers the parish’s work of evangelizing and spreading the Gospel, which can tie the hands of the pastor.
What is important to note is that I am not addressing people’s financial abilities. Rather it is an issue of sacrificial giving, because no matter how rich or how poor we are, we can all be sacrificial givers; we are all called to be sacrificial givers.
As a rule, people who are less generous tend to be more sensitive to the subject. One case in point happened to me many years ago. I was pastor of a small parish when I had given my very first “money” homily, and after Mass a woman approached me and said, “Father, is that all you ever do is talk about, money?”
Charitable thoughts were not running through my mind at that moment. People who are not generous do not like to hear about the subject. Now, I am not saying that this particular woman was not generous, but her initial response to my first ever homily on the subject seemed to be a bit telling.
There are people who think the church should not be talking about money and that money has little or nothing to do with religion, but nothing could be further from the truth. You may have heard this before, but the Bible addresses money more than it addresses love! In fact money is the subject most addressed in the Bible, so you can be certain that money and faith go together.
While at this point I could cite any of the myriad scripture passages to make the case, it is the familiar passage of the poor widow in the Gospel of Luke that speaks loudly as to Christ’s understanding of our responsibility with our money. After Jesus watches wealthy people deposit their large gifts into the temple treasury and a poor widow do the same with only two copper coins, he says, “I assure you, this poor widow has put in more than all the rest. They make contributions out of their surplus, but she from her want has given what she could not afford — every penny she has to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).
If we read closely what Jesus says here, it should be a bit shocking. The poor widow, he says, put in more than the wealthy people did. We would be right to ask, “How can this be? How does God measure our generosity and our giving?”
God couldn’t care less about the amount that we give; rather, what is important is the sacrifice. We humans look at numbers, and it is right that we do so because we need to, especially if you are a pastor of a parish! But that is not how God looks at our giving. Jesus says the poor widow gave more than the wealthy people gave because she sacrificed more in her giving.
So God does not look at numbers, he looks at sacrifice. It is one of the ways we build up treasure in heaven, by sacrificing them on earth. We would be foolish to think that we will not be held accountable for how we used the blessings God gave us in this life.
So when it comes to giving to the church, your parish, or some other worthy charitable cause, it does not matter to God how rich or poor we are. Giving is meritorious based on how much we are sacrificing in the giving. In this way, poor people could easily give more than wealthy people if they do it sacrificially.
It is important for each and every one of us to pause so as to consider our charitable giving. Does it hurt? It should, if we are honest with ourselves. It is very easy for we humans to rationalize and justify our own rate of giving, when that is not what God is asking.
Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth parishes in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected]