This is the time of year when so many of you encourage me, and I am grateful.
It is the time for the annual Appeal, whatever we are calling it this year, and as Pastor I am tasked to exhort you to give. It is no surprise, and should hardly be a drama; nonetheless, it is nobody’s favorite topic to hear, and least of all mine to address. Nonetheless, there is no room to argue that it has no place in our conversation, no ground to suggest that sacrificial giving and money should not be the subject of Christian preaching. Just page through your favorite Gospel and count how often our Lord Jesus spoke about money and giving. Still, He is God and speaks with authority; I am not God, and my authority is much less. Just as well, you may say – and you would be right.
This is why when it comes to questions of when, whether, and how much to give, I try to present our Lord’s instruction, rather than my own. That may seem like a no-brainer to you, but to others it seems brainless: in these times, and in this culture, the techniques of fund-raising are finely tuned and carefully proven to obtain results. It is imprudent not to use this technical know-how to get people to give.
But I beg your forbearance. You see, for a portion of my priesthood, I worked directly for the foremost fund-raiser in the Church – in the whole Church, the universal Church. He was a master of the art, and knew every technique and tactic to its finest point. He paired with that an extraordinary, even preternatural sense of people, what they wanted and what they needed. And he used this understanding to provide what people wanted and needed in order to get them to give what he was asking, and more besides.
Among the needs or wants he sought to fulfill were the desire to be needed, the longing for approval, and the craving for gratitude that many people have. Add to that the hope that people nurture of making a difference. He was a master of convincing folks of the pernicious delusion that God Himself needed, approved, and in fact was grateful to them for the difference that they were making in the world. This, in one line, is the snake-oil song of the ecclesiastical fundraiser, and he was the all-time virtuoso chanter and enchanter.
My stomach churns at the recollection, and not only because of how successful he was at this; but also because of what he obtained by this. He received the gratitude, the affection, and the emotional dependence of untold numbers of people high and low, rich and poor, because he made himself the bestower of the approval that they craved, told them that they were good and God Himself was grateful to them, and delivered them from the authentic demands of Jesus and His Gospel. This is what their giving purchased, and what his fundraising obtained. But he took more from them than just their donations, for he was a ravening manipulator of human affections, and a devourer of souls.
You would be hard pressed to find a person in our Archdiocese, Catholic or not, who did not fall for this seduction to some degree, or at some time. We all want approval; we all enjoy gratitude. He offered Divine approval and God’s own gratitude, and many were the ones who did his bidding to obtain it. Many good works were accomplished in this manner, and benefits from them still accrue to this day. But the cost, the cost in human lives and dignity, the cost to the integrity of the Faith, the cost to the fabric of the Church, is only recently become apparent to all.
So I beg your indulgence if I eschew fundraising techniques, and avoid tactics with proven records of success. When it comes to giving to the Church and laying an offering before the Lord, I plant my flag on His own words and promise: To offer first our tithe to the Lord in His holy Church, and to see to the needs of the poor as well as those close to us, is not only our duty but moreover our path to happiness, right order, and health. In return, our faithful God will give us neither gratitude nor approval, but blessing, more than we have room to receive.
Instead of a fund raiser, I am charged by God to be a faith-raiser. And to the many of you who encourage me, I am grateful.