Recently I received a report from the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame entitled “Unleashing Catholic Generosity.” In that report comparisons were made between the self-reported religious giving and philanthropy of American Catholics and those of other religious groups. Almsgiving has always been looked upon as an important element of Christian discipleship. Why are some Christians more generous than others? It all seems to come down to whether donors see a connection between their faith and their giving.
In discussing the matter of financial giving religious groups tend to talk about “stewardship” and “tithing” and “offerings.” We Catholics prefer, or so it seems, the language of stewardship rather than tithing. Stewardship essentially is rooted in the call to be disciples. When we are well aware of the gifts we have received from God, as gifts, we are more inclined to share with others. Stewardship, of course, has a broader focus than simply sharing money. Good stewards also share their time and talent, as well as their treasure.
When we talk about tithing, traditionally this has been understood as a practice of giving 10 percent of one’s income to the church and other charitable causes. It goes all the way back to Jewish religious law, as articulated in the Book of Deuteronomy 14:28-29. “At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithes of your produce for that year and deposit them within your own communities, that the Levite who has no hereditary portion with you, and also the resident alien, the orphan and the widow within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied; so that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all that you undertake.”
In the Catholic community we don’t talk about a requirement of donating a tenth of everything we earn to the church or to other charitable organizations. But we Catholics are reminded that everything we have and everything we are has come to us as a gift from God. This realization should challenge us all to give cheerfully and generously. For many folks tithing ten percent is still thought of as a useful bench mark for generous giving.
When you and I look upon ourselves as stewards of all the gifts that have come our way in life, we are definitely more inclined to use our money faithfully to fulfill Christian purposes. On the other hand, when we are blessed with abundance, it is easy to forget that what we have belongs much more to God than to ourselves. Yet, when we are much more sensitive to the needs of the poor and stranger all around us, when we have compassion for those who suffer, this too seems to increase our generosity. When we have a greater awareness of the presence of God in our lives and of our relationship with others as sisters and brothers in the human family, this also motivates us to be more generous.
When pastors like myself fail to make the connection between faith and giving and only talk about the importance of “paying the bills,” it seems that many more people turn us off and view discussions about money as something very mundane. It is the focus on the spiritual mission of the church which motivates most of us to use whatever money and wealth we have in support of the church’s vision and mission.
The use of our money and possessions is very much a part of the spiritual life of all Catholics. It is a very important aspect of Christian formation and faithfulness. When we compartmentalize, separating money from matters of faith, then we start thinking that money and material possessions don’t have much to do with spiritual or religious issues. The Bible teaches quite clearly that the way we use our financial and material resources, not only the spiritual ones, is a true concern that God cares about. Keeping faith and giving on the same page helps us all shape our personal spiritual lives very profoundly and gives us all an opportunity to transform the world along Christian values and purposes.
It was 15 years ago that I came before you for the first time seeking your support for the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal. Once again this year I turn to you and ask you to share with me the privilege of helping the various ministries of the archdiocese implement the vision and mission that we share. The Appeal is an important aspect of the accumulation of resources needed to provide a host of ministries here in Catholic western Oregon that parishes cannot provide simply on their own. When we work together, we are capable of doing so much more. In recent years we have tried to focus on a few ministries in promoting the Appeal while keeping in mind that there are more than 20 ministries and activities that rely upon your support and mine. In most of our parishes the Appeal is about to begin. Some others who are still working on the Capital Campaign will conduct the Appeal after Easter.
For Appeal 2013 we have produced a video, which I’m hoping you will see in your parishes. Therein we highlight 1) our tuition assistance fund that helps families who want to send their kids to Catholic schools but can’t afford the full cost; 2) our support for the increasing numbers of retired priests of the archdiocese; and 3) our support for the Catholic Deaf community. Everything we do with funds collected in the Appeal serve people with real needs who live right here in our communities. We dropped the Appeal in 2011 because of the Capital Campaign, which is still under way in some of our parishes who had asked for a delay or who are revisiting the campaign. In Appeal 2012 we reached 96 percent of the goal, a reasonably good achievement considering that the Appeal had been dropped the previous year when the Capital Campaign was going on and the economy was still struggling.
It is my sincere hope that you will look upon your participation in this year’s Appeal as a truly important way you practice your Catholic faith. When Jesus suggested, using a bit of hyperbole, that it might be harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, He was giving us some wise counsel about our attitude with respect to personal possessions. When I see them as blessings that are exclusively mine which result from my own endeavors and when I make no connection with the goodness and care of God in my life, then there is danger. During this Year of Faith we Catholics of western Oregon want to give visible expression of our appreciation for God’s loving providence and our awareness that all we have and are comes from the Lord. In that spirit I ask you to contribute generously, as I promise to do, so that we can continue to teach, bless and serve as faithful disciples on mission together.