“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.