Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stewardship II: Treasure

What would you say if I told you that winning the Stanley Cup is all about money—that the players, coaches, and owners are only thinking about the bonuses that come with victory?

What would you say if I suggested all those fans on Granville Street are just celebrating the benefits to our local economy that comes with the playoffs?

You'd say, of course, that I was crazy. And you'd be right. The financial side of carrying home the cup is not the first thing on anyone's minds.

But what if I said that the Stanley Cup had nothing to do with money? Would that be right?

Of course not. Saying money plays no part in the playoffs would be silly. Many millions of dollars are involved, and among many other things, our national sport is a business that employs countless people.

The Church is not a business. Our parish is not a business. No-one would suggest we're all about money. And yet sometimes we forget that finances are important to our life of faith, even though the Scriptures point this out again and again.

Today, as I promised last week, I want to focus on the third "T" of the stewardship trio "time, talent, and treasure." What role does financial stewardship play in our lives and the life of our parish?

The only place to begin is with a word of gratitude. The proof of the generosity of many of our parishioners is all around you—beautiful improvements to our sanctuary, meeting space, and entryway were all paid for by your contributions to Project Advance.

Even at this early stage in the campaign, two of our regular major donors chose—without being asked—to double the large gift they give each year.

I have never had to ask anyone for money. Out of the blue I get asked "what can I do?"—a question to which I always have an answer. One very generous parishioner has a heart for young people, and has been a quiet patron of our youth programs; for instance, she paid the cost of introducing LifeTeen in our parish.

In four years I have sometimes lost sleep over parish worries, but never about money. The first reason for this is that we've always had enough both to pay our bills and to help those in need. The second is that the wise and prudent advice of our six-member finance council, and the expert work of our accountant, make sure that I can be a responsible steward of parish finances.

Again, on behalf of the whole community, and on my own behalf, I thank you for your faithful generosity—in many cases, for your generosity over many, many years.

I wish, though, that I could ask some of our more generous contributors to stand up and speak to those who may not yet understand the blessings stewardship brings. They'd be a bit reluctant, of course, since it could sound like bragging. But I've talked to them privately, and I know they feel great satisfaction in sharing what they have with this community; they feel deeply connected to the parish, and they feel a part of all that we accomplish, especially our work to spread the Good News through faith formation and youth programs.

Given these benefits—and the moral obligation to help provide for the needs of the Church, which is one of the five precepts of the Church [CCC 2043] why wouldn't every active member of our community want to hear the call to stewardship?

In particular, what keeps us from taking seriously our call to be stewards of the treasure—the financial means—that God has entrusted to us?

I really don't think it's stinginess, and it's certainly not poverty, because we're asked to support the parish only in accordance with our means. We know from the parable of the poor widow who contributed her little coin that God is pleased with whatever we give so long as it is proportionate and sacrificial.

I suspect there are two reasons why some active Catholics aren't committed to serious stewardship through the Sunday collection and Project Advance.

My Dad, who was always very generous with the Church, told me one reason. He said that people confuse giving to a need with needing to give.

He understood that even if there was no need, people need to give. It's part of human nature and part of Christian life. We may not know it, but God created us to give not to receive, and those in a parish who are receivers rather than givers short-change themselves.

This is the truly important point. I'm preaching about stewardship partly so that the parish has enough of your time, talent and treasure to really fulfill its mission. But what matters most to me—and to you—is that you fulfill your mission, as a Christian. Stewardship, as the American bishops have written, is a "disciple's response" to God's call. And nothing matters more to each of us than becoming disciples.

Still, the second reason people don't support the parish meaningfully is that they don't see the need. One of our faithful parishioners has been counting the collection for a dozen years. He told me yesterday that the number of five dollar bills has hardly changed in all that time. Many people, I'm sure, just got in a habit and saw no need to change.

Like most priests, I don't like to talk about money, so people may assume we're rolling in it. Well, as you'll see from the 2010 financial report that will be handed out in a couple of weeks, the truth is somewhat different. Our operating income—from regular collections and the like—was just $41,000 more than our operating expenditures. That, in the opinion of the parish finance council, is a bit too close for comfort. For one thing, we have a second priest now, and the cost of an additional salary, benefits, and board is about… $41,000.

In other words, the parish could slip into an operating deficit this year without strong support from you.

But that's just part of the story. As you know, we're celebrating the Ascension today, when Jesus gives what might be called His final orders. They're brief and to the point: make disciples and teach them. To do this, we need many more stewards of time and talent who will share the faith not only among fellow parishioners but with those who come to inquire. But, secondarily, we need resources—and with more financial support, we would do more, plain and simple.

What can we do to grow in stewardship? You'll see many ways of sharing time and talent next week, when we celebrate Stewardship Sunday with a huge display of parish ministries and activities after all the Masses, complete with refreshments.

Sharing your treasure, which is our concern this week, can mean three simple things. The first is to ask for envelopes if you don't have them, or to use them if you do. We're kidding ourselves if we think we can take stewardship seriously without Sunday envelopes—for one thing, they ensure we get a tax receipt, for another they give us an accurate picture of our support.

One parishioner, a well-paid professional, was very upset to discover he'd contributed a total of $85 to the parish last year—in his own mind he'd been generous, but the facts told another story. And of course when I talk about using envelopes, I include our convenient dedicated giving program which allows you to contribute directly from your bank account or bank card.

Step two is to reflect prayerfully on the amount of your weekly or monthly offering. Has your income increased since you began to contribute that five dollar bill? Is your gift a sacrifice? There's really no rule of thumb, but it's often suggested that the equivalent of one hour's pay is a good starting point. And we don't have too many parishioners working for five dollars an hour. If you signed up for dedicated giving, might this week be a good time to review the amount and to see if your family finances could handle something more?

Step three is to move beyond the regular expenses of the parish and to think about the future. Certainly we all have a big responsibility to pay our fair share of running Christ the Redeemer. But as you know, we are a community that supports two schools, and we can't do this only through the Sunday collection. Project Advance is what allows us to meet our big commitments; and this year we're looking down the road to a rebuilt high school.

Apart from the duty of regular parish support, we are called as stewards to make a sacrificial gift for future needs. At the Ascension, Jesus gave us the missionary mandate to teach, and in part this means schools.

I worry that some folks think that Project Advance is only for the affluent who can make major gifts. In fact, it's intended as a normal part of parish life, and your participation is a sign of full engagement as a parish steward.

But thinking about the future can also involve what's called planned giving or estate planning. When the financial statements come out, they'll show a bottom line that reflects a major gift from the estate of an unmarried parishioner who lived in nursing home. One person left a legacy that will one day build a science classroom or complete a library, or which might replace our roof if times get tough.

Early in the fall, the parish pastoral council has proposed a seminar on planned giving that will explain more to those interested in this form of stewardship, which can provide significant tax benefits to donors.

Looking back, we have so many people to thank, so many who will get their proper credit only in heaven. But there's a good reason why our annual fundraising campaign is called Project Advance: with the challenges we face in education, and with the opportunities we have for evangelization, we look ahead.

Let me end by proving the point I made at the beginning of my sermon, where I said the Stanley Cup wasn't about money but did involve money, and that the same's true for the Church.

Yesterday's paper reports that there's a bet on between Archbishop Miller and Cardinal O'Malley of Boston. If the Canucks win, the Cardinal gives a hundred dollars to Project Advance—and if the Bruins win, the Archbishop owes the same to Catholic Charities of Boston. It'd probably be wrong to pray we win the Stanley Cup—but surely there's nothing wrong in praying our bishop wins a bet?

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