“All My Pastor Ever Does Is Talk About Money!”

“I can’t stand my parish! All my pastor talks about is money!” I’m sure we’ve all heard plenty of people complain about that over Thanksgiving dinner, at little league games, wherever people gather and have time to chat. From time to time people ask me for advice as to what to say in response to people who say such things.

Well, first of all, let’s face brutal reality: there are some pastors who talk about money too much. It’s not that the parish is really in dire straits, it’s just that he doesn’t seem to know what else to talk about. Pity the pastor who has lost his vision of shepherding the flock and feels that, as long as his parish is financially in the black, everything is ok. It is not. However, the pastor is responsible for the temporal well-being of the parish, and if there isn’t enough money to pay the bills, he has to try to increase revenue. I don’t think any reasonable individual could fault him for that. The pastor has an obligation to keep the people abreast of the financial situation of the parish. Many people would say that they’d happily increase their offering if the pastor only asked for more. But it is also equally true that a lot of pastors are accused of only talking about money by people who just don’t want to hear about it. It is usually not from the people who are doing their best, but from those who know very well that they are not and are being made to feel guilty about their poor giving. You know the old saying, “When you throw a rock into a group of dogs, the one who barks is the one you hit!”

I have used this story to explain to my parishioners the way we all must view our giving:

Suppose you have a family project to do, such as clean out the garage. The mother and father tell their three children to make no other plans for this coming Saturday, because everyone will be needed. The three children are as follows; first is Joe, the oldest. Joe works like a workhorse, doing the bulk of the work, and never asks if he’s done “his share,” but always works until the job is done. Secondly, there is Mary. Normally, Mary would be like Joe, but Mary broke her leg and is in a cast. She cannot lift boxes, but she gladly agrees to do whatever she can, perhaps sitting at the workbench and cleaning it up. Then there’s Junior. Junior shows up with his cellphone in hand, and while everyone else is working, he’s texting away. Eventually, Joe and Mary start to complain to Dad that Junior isn’t working. Repeated attempts to get Junior to help are fruitless. Finally, Dad resorts to a threat: “Junior, either you start helping or you will not be allowed to have dinner tonight!” So Junior, while continuing to text with one hand, goes and picks up an empty paint can, puts it in the garbage pile outside and says, “There! I helped!” and then sits down again and continues texting. What would you want to do with Junior? Joe complains, and Dad asks him to pick up the slack for Junior because the work has to get done. Joe would never say no because he loves his father and realizes he needs his help. But he begins to hold animosity for Junior. Mary begins to feel bad that she can’t do more, and starts feeling guilty. And Junior just continues to text away! Tensions begin to mount. Is this an example of a happy, functional family?

When it comes to financial support of a parish, there are always parishioners like Joe. They have the means and give substantially, perhaps even more than is their fair share, but they do it and don’t complain because they love their parish and care about its success. These are the people that basically carry the parish financially. Whenever the pastor asks for money, they always give more. Then there are others like Mary. Their income may be limited, they may be unemployed, but whatever the cause, their finances are very tight and they are struggling to make ends meet. They give the best that they can and wish it could be more, and are usually the ones who say, “Father, if I only had a million dollars I’d give the parish half of it!” These are the people that I have to remind not to feel guilty, that like the widow’s mite, every sacrifice is appreciated by God, even if the amount is small. Finally, there’s the problem group: the Juniors. They are the ones whom you see driving nice cars and throwing a buck in the basket; if you’re lucky, a $5 bill! These are the ones the pastor is trying to remind to carry their weight. And you guessed it! The Juniors are the complainers, the ones who accuse the pastor of “only talking about money.” They sometimes threaten that they’re going to find another parish where the pastor doesn’t “forever talk about money.” Well, if they succeed, then what they’re really looking for is a parish where others are giving so well that they don’t have to worry about pulling their weight; in other words, they want to be freeloaders! So if someone should ever complain about their pastor “always talking about money” and you know it’s not true, tell them they’re looking for a free ride and are not taking seriously the responsibility that everyone has of proper stewardship, that is, doing our duty to take care of and preserve what has been given to us by God and by those who came before us, so that we will be handing on the same vibrant parish to our children that we got from our parents.

Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween?

This week of course we celebrate Halloween. You may have encountered people who try to tell us that Christians should not celebrate Halloween because it glorifies evil and witchcraft and teaches children to embrace them. Well, my response to this is simple: “Hockey Feathers!” What better way to show that we do not fear Satan than mocking him? Remember, “Halloween” is short for “All Hallows Eve”, the night before All Saints Day. I like to think of it as saying to evil forces, “Go ahead! Have your last hurrah, for tomorrow as we honor all the saints you will be tormented by your own decision to reject God!”

Catholics, then, of all people should most definitely celebrate Halloween! There are a few warnings, however, that we must observe! One is to remember that All Saints Day is a Holyday of Obligation, so we must make sure we attend Mass on November 1st. Celebrating Halloween without celebrating All Saints Day misses the whole point! Secondly, – this is especially for the junior high crowd – damaging people and property is not an appropriate part of Halloween! Mock evil, don’t participate in it! Finally – and this is usually a caution we must remind adult revelers – make sure your costume is not insulting to any good people, is not of a filthy nature, and is appropriate for you to be wearing. Imagine down the line if your child should find a photo of you in your costume! How would you explain THAT?! So go out and trick or treat, have fun at a Halloween party, but keep it safe, keep it clean, keep it appropriate, and GO TO MASS FOR ALL SAINTS’ DAY!!!

5 fears about going to confession, and how to overcome them

Don’t get me wrong! I am not for a moment advocating excessive drinking and getting drunk! But sometimes when at a party, a wedding, or some other social event, someone with a few drinks under his belt starts to loosen up about deep, dark, secrets that he would never discuss when sober, and invariably I end asking him if he’d ever brought his concern into confession. Usually, there is a major balk at the idea, and the person will say, “Oh, I could never go to confession! I’d be too ashamed!” I then ask him “if you were very sick, would you be ashamed to go to the doctor?” They usually get the point.

Going to confession is like going to the doctor for your soul. But of course, some people have fears about confession that they would never have about going to a doctor. These fears, while perhaps understandable, keep people away from the healing touch of Christ. As a priest, I have the great advantage of knowing what it’s like to be on both sides of the screen. I need to go to confession like anyone else, but I also get to be the one hearing the confession and offering absolution. So permit me to discuss and dismiss several common fears people have about confession:

#1: “If I even attempted to walk into a church, the roof would fall in!”

Sorry! It’s never once been observed! Church roofs today are equipped with specially constructed spiritual beams that keep the plaster, shingles, and tiles all in place even if the worst of sinners should enter, and they come with a lifetime guarantee!

#2: “If I actually told my sins to a priest, my confession would cause him to have a massive heart attack!

Believe me! You don’t have to be ordained very long before you’ve heard everything! There is nothing you can say that is going to shock a priest. What took all of your strength to say is probably just another typical day hearing confessions for the priest. Don’t be afraid! We’ve heard it all!

#3: “It’s been so long I’ve forgotten how to go!”

If that’s the case, all you need to do is say to the priest, “Father, it’s been so long I don’t remember what to do nor do I even remember the Act of Contrition,”  and the priest will take it from there. All you need is a desire to go!

#4: “I could never tell Father ‘So-and-So’ that! He knows me! What will he think of me?”

What he’ll think of you is that he is someone whom you trust completely with something very personal that he knew was hard for you to find the courage to talk about. He will not be ashamed of you. If anything, he will have greater love and respect for you because you are trying to change and overcome your sins. When I go to confession, I find it more powerful to sit face-to-face with a priest I know and lay it all on him. It actually feels wonderful knowing I have told my worst deep embarrassments to someone I know and that he understands and is encouraging me. If Father can be compassionate and forgiving, how much more does Jesus understand and forgive!

#5: “God would never forgive me THAT!”

Suppose Adolf Hitler, right after he shot himself, had a moment of regret and asked God to forgive him. Do you think God would forgive him? Of course! If Satan himself should ever turn to God and say, “Father, I’m sorry for rebelling against you, and I’m sorry for harming your creation all these years! Please forgive me!” Would God forgive him? We know the answer is “Yes”. So if God could forgive Adolf Hitler or Satan – with all the evil they did – do you think He will refuse to forgive you your sin, no matter how serious it is? Remember that God is trying to get us into Heaven, not to keep us out!

When the Lord Jesus was revealing the Divine Mercy to St. Faustina, the priest who was her confessor was having difficulty figuring out whether the apparitions she reported were real or fantasy, so as proof, he asked Faustina to ask Jesus to reveal to her what the priest’s last mortal sin was. When she asked Jesus “What was Father’s last mortal sin?” Jesus responded, “I don’t remember!” Jesus did not die on the cross to hold us forever accountable for our sins but rather to take them away and forget about them! So don’t be afraid to bring your sins to Jesus for forgiveness, no matter how serious they may be. He WILL forgive you!

“Okay, but what if I keep committing the same sin over and over?” Well, one thing a priest is never allowed to ask you is: “Will you promise me you will never commit that sin again?” He can’t ask that because you can’t promise that. All that you can promise is that you’ll try, even if in the back of your mind you know you may fall again.

“But does God ever get tired of forgiving us? Does He ever say we’ve exhausted our supply of forgiveness? Will He ever say, ‘Hey! you’ve confessed this over and over and nothing changes! It’s time to bite the bullet and stop?’”

We might think He should – but He doesn’t! I find sometimes when I go to confession that the priest should say that to me, but he never does. God always forgives me, over and over and over, even if I don’t think He should. God has patience with me when I’ve lost patience with myself. That only tells me that God loves me even more than I love myself! Sometimes the hardest forgiveness there is to receive is not God’s but our own. If we’re afraid to go to confession, maybe it’s because we don’t feel we deserve to be forgiven. Even if you don’t think you’re worth forgiving, God does! Don’t be afraid. He is longing to forgive you – He died to forgive you – let him!

You are Going to Rome!!!!!!

I am very pleased to announce that, at the suggestion of several young people I know, I will be leading a Pilgrimage for Youth to Rome this coming July. It will be open to anyone who is currently in 7th grade through those 39 years old. The flyer below gives all the information. If you’re interested in attending, simply sign up and send in your deposit. I hope you can join me in Rome!