Recently, you received in the mail something very traditionally Catholic, raffle tickets! When I was a kid going to Catholic school there was always a raffle, or we were selling something to help support the school and the parish. It seemed every parish had a bingo night. In those days when parishes were smaller and Catholic families were poorer, fundraising was essential in keeping things running. Happily, the way we see the Church and money has developed over the years. There are still some parishes and schools that absolutely depend on fundraising, but if a parish must rely on a bake sale or a fish fry to pay the electric bill, that is not good. I have often said that I did not spend all those years in the seminary to become a professional fundraiser. Yet money and the mission of the Church are absolutely tied together. It takes money to fulfill the mission. Even Jesus had a treasurer in his band of apostles. St. Paul went around taking up collections. In the gospels, Jesus talks more, far more about money than he does many other topics. With this kind of biblical and theological foundation, I am always struck when people bristle when the topic of money is brought up in church. Some carry on like it is anathema or somehow so unholy that it should never be mentioned.
There is nothing wrong with money! Money is necessary for our livelihoods, families, homes, businesses, schools, organizations, governments and yes, even the Church! If you don’t believe me, try running your house without money! What is bad is not money, but the lust of money. The unfettered desire for money is bad. Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street, notwithstanding, greed is not good! St. Paul reminds St. Timothy that the ‘love of money is the root of all evils’ (1 Tim 6:10). What is important is not how much money we accumulate, but what we do with the money we have. We can be poor and still be selfish and greedy and we can be wealthy and be charitable and generous.
Here at St. John Vianney, we are financially blessed because of the generosity of our parishioners. It takes a lot of money, and I mean a LOT of money, to keep our parish running. Our budget in normal times is around $6 Million. We have a lot of employees, a large campus with lots of buildings and lots of programs. That translates into lots of expenses. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking from morning Mass in the church back to the rectory. I was stunned by all the service trucks we had in the parking lot, plumbers, electricians, asphalt pavers, HVAC engineers, contractors cleaning the masonry, a service doing duct cleaning and the landscaping service. To be honest, at that moment, all I could think about were the bills coming in and the money pouring out of here. After I caught my breath, I saw things a bit differently. It was still a lot of money pouring out, but I also saw how blessed we were to have the facilities that we have and the ability to keep them up. I also saw all the men and women with jobs because of the work we provide. I also saw how blessed we were to have the funds to pay for these services. But the money that is given in stewardship is not just for ourselves and our needs. As a parish, we also have the need, obligation and privilege to be generous.
Our parish supports others in a variety of ways. In rough numbers, St. John Vianney parish gives close to $2 Million to others each year. This includes our support of the archdiocese, our social services, and our on-going, sustaining grants and annual grants to poor parishes, schools and other social service agencies that aid and assist the needy. We aid the poor, the hungry, the sick and the homeless. We assist pregnant mothers in keeping their children, we help with those released from prison to start new lives, we help children attend Catholic schools. We support struggling parishes and schools. We build and repair houses in Houston and in the Rio Grande Valley. Most of the monies come from our regular Sunday collections. Another source of our charitable giving is the annual bazaar. 100% of the net proceeds of the bazaar are designated to support our charities. We will continue to do this. The impact of our faith and love reaches far beyond our parish!
Lest anyone be under the false impression that everything is fine and perfect, the reality is that our parish also has real and serious challenges. Currently, only 42% of our registered parishioners have contributed to the financial support of the parish in 2021 and fewer than 20% to DSF. This is very concerning. We are aware that there are parishioners who have lost their jobs during the pandemic and others are in financial distress. We pray that they may soon find relief. However, that does not totally explain this situation. The obvious explanation is that many people treat church like it is a commodity. If you go to the movies, you buy a ticket. If you don’t go, you keep your money in your pocket. If people come to Mass, they put money in the basket, if they don’t come to Mass, they keep the money in their pockets. I know that this is not everyone, but it is a prevalent attitude.
This is not what the church is (a commodity/entertainment) and it is not what stewardship is (admission price or membership dues). The Church is our family, and we all belong. I have always loved the image of the Church as “Our Holy Mother”. She gives us birth to new life in baptism, she feeds us with the Bread of Life in the Holy Eucharist, she tends our wounds and heals us with the Sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, she provides a home for us and cares for us in a family. She teaches us with eternal and heavenly wisdom and from time to time, like a good mother, she must correct us and set us on the right path. Like any family, there are errant brothers and sisters, but they are OUR brothers and sisters. Of course, not everything is perfect all the time. But the Church is our mother and how can we deny our mother?
Financial stewardship is part of our Christian discipleship. It is part of our following Jesus, living our faith and proclaiming the Gospel. As in the story of Cain and Abel, each of us has a choice of what we are to offer in sacrifice to the Lord out of love, our first fruits or our remnants? Too often, we give to a particular need and fail to recognize our need to give! Discipleship is when we give back to God because we have received so much from Him!
In pace Christi,