One of the biggest struggles many Catholics face each year is how to financially support our parishes and dioceses, while also giving to the poor and needy, and providing for the needs of our families. This topic results in a wide range of opinions, some of them heated.
The most recent sex abuse scandals, including the horrifying Grand Jury Report out of Pennsylvania, has made it even more difficult for many people to want to support their parishes or dioceses financially. This withholding is seen as a just response to the scandals and it is true that money talks. Withholding financial contributions is an effective mechanism for bringing about change, but in doing so we need to consider prudently, justly, and charitably what we hope to accomplish and the consequences of withholding our financial support, especially within our own parishes.
There are in fact just reasons for not donating to a certain cause, even within a diocese, but we should prayerfully discern if this is what God is truly calling us to do. We are stewards of the parishes we are members of and we share in that responsibility together as a community. If we do not provide for the material needs of our parishes, then they will no longer be able to function and provide for the needs of the worshipping community now and for future generations. In truth, our sharing in the material gifts and goods that God has given to us is an act of love towards God and our neighbor.
Our decision should be measured and prudent, so that we don’t end up hurting our own communities and the efforts of the many good and holy priests serving our parishes.
Financially supporting the Church in love
There is much more to supporting the Church financially than simply an obligation or a duty. In fact, a sense of duty only moves us so far. We are meant to support our parishes and the Church out of love—caritas. It is within our parishes where we are nourished by the Word of God and the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in the Holy Eucharist through the celebration of the Mass. It is in our parishes—as the worshipping community—that we enter into the great mysteries of our faith as one body and encounter the Living God. It is in that encounter where we learn to love as Christ loves and that love sends us outward into the world.
Love dwells in relationship and relationships always require something of us. There is nothing more demanding and life-giving than our relationship with Christ who draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity and who binds us to one another in the love between the Divine Persons.
In the love-story recounted by the Bible, he comes towards us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross, to his appearances after the Resurrection and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, he guided the nascent Church along her path. Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his Word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence, and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives. He has loved us first, and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 17
This community of believers is comprised of those men and women who have entered into the Sacrament of Baptism in order to die to self and rise to a new life in Christ. We are no longer on our journey alone, rather, we are now in communion—communio—with the rest of the Mystical Body. We most readily live that communion through our parishes when we come together in the Liturgy, Sacraments, prayer, service, and community. In order for the Sacraments to be made present to us, to attend Mass, enter more fully into communion through ministry, and delve deeper into what we believe, we must have buildings and resources at our disposal. This is an aspect of being a member of the worshipping community.
Living in communion
We are all called to provide financially for the community—including our parish buildings—on a regular basis, as well as when specific needs arise. If we don’t do it, then we will very quickly find our buildings in disrepair, which will in many ways hinder our ability to come together fully in communion and to live our evangelical mission. Part of our moving out in charity is giving freely of the financial gifts God has given to each one of us. We are stewards of the money and possessions we own.
The need for a physical church building is apparent to people. This obviously changes in times of persecution, but in our current age, a church building is understood as a need of the community. We need a place to come together to worship and to participate in the Mass. The running of any parish is costly and so is the upkeep of parish buildings.
Knowing that we need a place to worship does not necessarily move us towards why we need to support parish buildings, especially if they are costly. Why can’t we meet in a gymnasium, a shopping center, or a simple building? Why do we need great cathedrals or beautiful churches? These are questions many people ask whenever something costly comes up for historic churches or a move to renovate a parish to a closer reflection of the Church’s understanding of sacred beauty arises. Fyodor Dostoevsky said “Beauty will save the world.” Since God is Beauty Itself this is absolutely true. We need beauty.
The gift of beauty
Beauty is a gift. It is a gift between the giver and the recipient. God freely bestows beauty upon us through His Creation and we in turn return that beauty through the Liturgy, art, music, and yes, our churches. Beauty gives entirely of itself. It reflects harmony, order, radiance, and it draws us outside of ourselves. When we are pierced by beauty, it is something we can only receive as a great gift. Beauty is not something we can grasp. We have no control or power over it. It forgets itself in order to draw others in.
Beauty draws us deeper into the mystery of God. Beauty is one of the ways God calls to us so that we may fall more deeply in love with Him because we see Him more clearly—although always in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12)—through the gratuitous and self-emptying nature of beauty. This self-emptying is most apparent in the beauty of the consecrated host elevated by the priest during the Mass. Beauty is a reflection of God. The beauty of our churches reflects the beauty of God, but it also reflects our desire to give back to God, to return beauty to Him. It is a movement of and in caritas.
St. John tells us: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:16).” We are constantly invited into an ever deepening love of God. He draws us to Himself and the great depth of his love is poured out upon us and we in turn come to love Him more fully. This love is not simply a duty or obligation. It is, in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: “the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us (Deus Caritas Est 1).” Part of that invitation is our response materially to the needs of His Church as we return everything to God in communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Love does not allow us to hold anything back, not even our financial goods. Love moves us towards our Beloved and our neighbor, and that includes the financial gifts He has given to us in order to support our parishes. If we don’t allow ourselves to be moved in love to support the needs of our parishes, then the consequences can be dire for our communities. We will also miss out on an opportunity to participate in a great act of love. Rather than see the requests of our priests as a burden, let us view it as an opportunity to act in love towards God and our neighbor, so that we can continue to dwell in communion with one another through the Mass and the life of our parishes surrounded by the beauty of our sacred spaces, which house the Real Presence of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Even in the midst of the great evil being brought to light through the current sex abuse scandals, let us remember to serve one another in love so that together we may enter into greater communion with the Most Holy Trinity, which is where our hope ultimately lies. It is caritas that will heal the great wounds in the Church; love for God and love for one another.