Be the Cheerful Giver by Father John Higgins

 

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We’ve been doing a Bible Study in our Parish. It isn’t what a lot of people think it would be. It’s an introduction to the Bible and covers the entire Library of Books that we call “The Bible” or “Sacred Scripture”. The Bible is just that. It isn’t a single book, but a collection of many writings from many ages. Some were written in Hebrew, others in Greek and put together by the Catholic Church at Ecumenical Councils in North Africa (which used to be largely Christian) in the early part of the fourth century. Everyone in our parish was invited, and I also invited a few friends. One of these friends is a Firefighter who attends a small Evangelical Church. He found our Bible Study to be very interesting and informative. He liked it a lot. At the end of his first evening there he turned to me and said “When do they pass the basket?” I was surprised. We just don’t do that at a Bible study. He said, “At our Church we pass the basket at everything!” We both laughed.  Then we got into a discussion of how he and his wife support their small Church financially. They have about 50 families in the Church and he said that most of the people do just about the same as he and his wife. I asked, “Well, without getting too nosey, about how much do you gave?” He shyly said, “Well, so far we’ve only been able to give about 10% of our combined income. But we hope to do more when we get a few of our debts paid off.”  I was shocked. He was embarrassed. We’ve had completely different experiences of giving patterns. He thought he and his wife were giving too little. I though they were doing an outstanding job of supporting their little Church. Then he added, “That doesn’t count the times the basket is passed.”  He described the reason he gives is that it is such a blessing in his life, the life of his wife and children. He says that God has blessed them so much, not in material things, but in the joy of knowing that they are following God with all their hearts and showing it not only in how much they donate, but in how much they love the other members of their Church and how much they want to (not have to) help wherever and whenever they can.

Catholics have traditionally thought of giving to their parish as a chore, something that they have to do in order for the parish to pay it’s bills and support the school and make sure that the Priests don’t go hungry.  Many Catholics are part of a culture that came from nations where the government supported the Church through taxes, so there was no need to give to the Church except for special things that one wanted. Many people in the Catholic Church have always depended on large numbers of people giving a little bit to support a parish and school well staffed with Priests and Sisters who received very little money, if any, for teaching full time, managing the parish and doing the rest of the things that people expected. In my first parish the salary of a Priest was $160 a month. The Sisters got $20 a month each. Granted, everything was paid for. But the Sisters had only one habit and lived in a tiny room. The Priests were plentiful (five Priests full time in a parish was not uncommon) and in years previous to my time there was only one telephone in the Rectory, one car for the Pastor (other Priests had to walk or try to get on a bus) and the parish staff consisted of the Housekeeper, who was often the Pastor’s mother or sister who got nothing but room and board.


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Things have certainly changed since those days, haven’t they?

I believe that a major change has to occur. Catholics must stop thinking of their Church as something they have to do, and start thinking of their Church as something that they get to do. The old question, “What do I have to do to get to Heaven?” is the wrong question. It has been since Jesus came and told the people to stop being hypocrites about following rules instead of following God with joy and love. Our support of our local Parish isn’t supposed to be about guilt and fear, it is supposed to be about a love for doing what is good and right and just, loving God with all our heart, all our mind and all our strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Love can never be forced, nor is it simply obligation. It is never supposed to be founded on guilt, but on a willingness to give of ones self for the good of others.

Let’s think about how we support our parish. Do we just take what is left over from everything else and give it? Do we look at our resources and give with love? Do we plan ahead, so that giving to our Church is part of that plan? Do we follow the tradition of “One dollar is enough”? What do we expect? Do we think that if we give more it will be terrible, or do we even think about giving to our Church at all, and only when it’s time for the collection do we open our pocket, purse or wallet and see what’s avai

I strongly urge everyone to plan ahead. Make your support of your Parish part of your budget. Decide how you want to give. Online giving is available. Many people decide that once a month they will donate a certain amount and then they don’t have to worry about a weekly envelope or make sure they have cash with them on the way to Church.

Whatever it is make your donation to your parish something that is based in love and joy, not in obligation and guilt. Give from your heart, not from your leftovers. Give and it will be your joy to receive as well.


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For more on Father John Higgins

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