Stewardship or Indulgence?

giant-calculatorI hadn’t really thought the ways this economic crisis must be hitting parish collection baskets. Of course folks must be cutting back on their envelope contributions if they’re having trouble keeping the lights on.

Last weekend I attended Mass in Spearfish, SoDak. I like visiting parishes—it’s always an interesting adventure in peering into the patchwork of lives that make up Catholicism.  As we walked to the very post-Vatican II church building, a parish council member was stumbling his way through a powerpoint on stewardship and the many ways folks can be involved in parish life, including regular and sustained financial contributions.

Mass was humming along as the priest began his homily on God’s fruitful love, fruitful giving.  Just as I was thinking that maybe I could try to ignore all his male pronouns for God because of his nice reflection, the homily took a nasty turn.  All of a sudden, he was telling us that we should manifest God’s fruitful giving through contributing more money to the parish. We will receive much in return, he promised. He offered to point out who in the congregation has gained spiritual wellness through their financial giving.  And he encouraged guilty giving by pointing out that they’ve seen a decrease in envelopes (read: checks written for more than $20) and an increase in cash (read: $1 or $5 bills) in the weekly baskets.

Let me be quite clear.  I absolutely believe parishioners ought to contribute to their parishes.  It is an important part of being a part of a parish community and a valuable way to support the good work many Catholic churches do on shoestring budgets.

But to claim that giving money to a parish is theological or has eschatological implications is simply irresponsible.  Giving money to a parish is a lovely thing to do; but to do so because we might gain spiritual riches in return sounds awfully close to a throwback to indulgences.  Tithing has its place, of course.  But we ought to be offended that a parish priest does not simply say, “Hey, the tanking economy is hurting our parish family, too.  If there is anyway for you to keep contributing, we promise to use your money wisely to sustain our Catholic services.”

Honesty.  Transparency.  Frankness.  These are things that garner my stewardship.  Not an opportunity to buy my way to God.

Kate Dugan is a 29-year-old Catholic living on a boat on Harstine Island, WA. A while ago, I earned my Master of Theological Studies and lately I’m constantly surprised by how being Catholic affects me in side-ways–its funny to me when I notice rituals in my daily life– Transubstantiation on my walk to work, Reconciliation in my new marriage, breaking bread over a barbecue grill.

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