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How do you determine how much time, energy and money you should give to your parish and the broader Church? When is enough, enough? And when is it too little?
The beginning of a new calendar year is a great time to reflect on what we’ve shared in the past and what we feel called to share in the new year.
It is a good spiritual activity to discuss and pray annually about how, and how much, to contribute to the building up of our parish and the broader Church. We can reflect on many questions: What blessings has God given us? How will we plan to steward and share those blessings in the upcoming year? What gifts are we particularly grateful for now? What can we do to strengthen our parish this year? Do we feel called by God to sacrifice for or invest in any particular ministries or initiatives at our parish -- perhaps for the first time? How do we feel about our annual contributions to the Church compared to some of our other expenses?
Our gifts of time and energy are critical to carrying on many of our parish’s and Church’s ministries. Thriving parishes are those where most of the parishioners are actively involved. Our gifts of money allow the Church to hire Catholics to work full-time to advance our many ministries to pass on our faith and to care for those in need, as well as to provide resources to operate our parish churches, schools and agencies. Together, we carry on the mission of the Church to make God’s saving love known and then put it into practice as we care for others.
We are invited and encouraged by the Gospel to be generous in the sharing of all of our resources. St. Paul often talks about money: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:6-7)
Catholics frequently seek guidance from their pastor or fellow parishioners about how much they should give. A few approaches are common in the Church, yet it is important to acknowledge that guidelines can only get us part way to an answer. We should take time to seek guidance from God in the decision and determine in prayer what we think he wants us to do. When we develop a deeper conviction of what we believe God wants from us, and we are at peace with it in our heart, then we are ready to move ahead with joy.
The first method can be described as the “everyone does their part” approach -- Many Catholics who were adults in the 1950s recount that Cardinal Cushing once said, “if every Catholic gives at least $1 per week to the parish collection,” our parishes will thrive. The Catholic community responded well to that call for participation and so many Catholics contributed much more than that. It is remarkable how many parishes, schools and agencies Catholics built during that era -- both here in the archdiocese and in the many mission dioceses that we supported. If a similar call was made today, the amount requested would likely be at least $20-25 per week (or $100 per month) per working family to accomplish today as much in ministry as $1 minimum per week allowed in the 1950s.
The second method can be described as the “share proportionate to your means” approach -- This approach has many different applications. Some apply it by giving their “first fruits” to God and sharing the equivalent of a couple of hours of pay and a couple of hours of service weekly with the Church. Others apply this in the form of a tithe, sharing a certain percentage of their income with their parish first, with other Catholic ministries second, and then with other organizations that care for the needy.
The third method is the “give in a spirit of sacrifice and love” approach -- Out of gratitude for God’s love, blessings and sacrifice, families commit to contribution levels that require sacrifice. The level of sacrifice will be different for each family. This approach requires saying “no” to, or “cutting back” on, some expenditures so that the family can be generous with God. Families that apply this method often are inspired by the generous widow in the Gospel (Mark 12:43; Luke 21:3-4) and often experience that God is never outdone in generosity. The beautiful parishes and schools here would never have been built if our Catholic forbears didn’t sacrifice greatly for our Church.
If it has been a while since you reflected on the level of your support, please prayerfully take some time this month to reflect on your current contributions to the Church and decide on an amount for 2010 that will allow you to truly be a cheerful and joyful giver. The Church is grateful for your prayers, service and generous sharing of your financial resources.
Scot Landry is Secretary for Advancement and Chief Development Officer of the Archdiocese of Boston.