By Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran
Crises are accelerators: They take established patterns and speed them up.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, most parishes and dioceses likely suffered from financial instability. The pandemic exacerbated and accelerated those financial concerns. Early reports indicate that the pandemic has caused parish giving to decrease as much as 30 to 50% percent, leaving the church in a place that might otherwise have taken between five and 10 years to reach.
Parishes need money like every organization. Yet money is a touchy subject in Catholic churches: Pastors don’t want to ask for it and parishioners don’t want to hear about it. But giving is more important than ever before because the needs are more pressing than ever before.
Money is a big part of the story of the Bible. When you read God’s Word, you realize it suggests a very different approach to money than most of the world takes. Jesus had a lot to say about money: About 15% of his recorded words were about the topic — even more than he spoke about heaven or hell, marriage and family, more than he spoke about the church.
Jesus explained that money doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to God and we must accept the responsibility of being his steward. (“The Parable of the Dishonest Steward,” Luke 16: 1-13 and “The Parable of the Talents,” Matthew 25, 14-30).
The Gospel of Mark includes the story of Jesus being anointed with expensive oil by a woman at Bethany. Some of his disciples became indignant that the woman “wasted” the perfumed oil — worth almost a year’s wages — instead of giving the money to the poor. Jesus told the critics to leave the woman alone: “The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.” (Mark 14: 3-9).
While Jesus definitely encourages giving to the poor elsewhere, in this instance, he honors the woman for giving in her place of worship instead of giving to the poor. The dining hall becomes her place of worship as she makes her offering to God there. Mark intentionally doesn’t name the woman because he invites everyone to identify with her and do as she did.
Over and over again, Jesus teaches us that we are to give money away. And we need to be willing to part with it for two reasons: In the short term, giving grows our hearts in an immediate kind of way because it feels good; in the long term, it builds treasure in heaven.
Jesus never explicitly taught people to give as an act of worship because he didn’t have to. It was ingrained in the culture in which he lived and enshrined in the law of Moses, which he came to fulfill.
Being his stewards, we are called to a special responsibility. The Old Testament offers a number of examples where giving was an act of worship. Cain and Abel brought their offerings before the Lord. Cain became murderously envious because God looked on Abel’s generous gift with favor and he rejected Cain’s half-hearted one (Genesis 4:3-8). Moses commanded giving God worship offerings as part of the code of law he established (Exodus 35:5-9). David spent the latter part of his reign teaching the people about giving to God as part of his fundraising to build the Temple (1 Chronicles 29: 3-9).
Giving to fund the church’s ministry and mission is really about being disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s a sacrifice that God calls us to freely give.
So as a parishioner, what can you do?
Commit to giving and using your money in a way that aligns with Jesus’ teachings.
Fast and pray for the members of your parish to grow in giving and generosity.
Look for opportunities to encourage and support your pastor, especially when it comes to preaching and teaching on stewardship.
Look for opportunities to serve your parish, especially in ways that might save the church money.
Discipline yourself and your spending to make progress year by year toward your goal of giving to the parish.
Coronavirus, like any crisis, offers a change in direction. With all the old-fashioned fundraisers, passing-the-basket offertory, and annual appeals gone at least for now, we have an important opportunity. We can use this time to lean into the wisdom and insights God’s Word offers when it comes to giving and to become the disciples he calls us to be.
Father Michael White, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, and his associate Tom Corcoran. They are the authors of the best-selling Rebuilt Parish series, as well as “ChurchMoney: Rebuilding the Way We Fund Our Mission.”