Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Dollars of faith
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Feb. 4, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
This past week’s snail-mail and e-mail joined forces to bless my eyes with seven different fund raising letters. Three were requests for funds for organizations I did not even recognize. Two more were from local social services agencies making requests. Another was from our parish Catholic school. Yet another was from my own parish – the annual letter of encouragement to parishioners to participate in our diocese’s Annual Catholic Appeal.
The day’s mail count was not necessarily a fluke. It seems that hardly a day passes without some request for funds arriving in the mail tray on my desk or leaping onto the computer screen. At their appearance it is tempting to utter a primal scream and trash all those form letters and pre-printed donation envelopes. And, indeed, what is one to do with those accompanying religious trinkets whose clever inclusion plays on an embedded sense of “Catholic guilt”!?
Even if the piece is graced with actually being opened and read, the unsealing of hidden hopes often is met with the groaning complaint that “they” are asking for money again. At such times a feeling of being put-upon may evoke a tinge of frustration, even anger. It’s hard to sort through it all. On the one hand, a mature sense of Christian stewardship makes it relatively easy to respond to the more obvious requests that we let our wallets, checkbooks and credit cards put our faith into practical action. The call for our faith-motivated response to the Annual Catholic Appeal or to the truly heart-wrenching humanitarian needs in Haiti these days are obvious. It is clear to the responsible Christian heart, that positive and generous response to these very legitimate needs is part and parcel of living faith. But how does the recipient deal with the mailing which pleads for funds to protect an endangered snake in Peru? Or the one that tugs at the heart to feed “Rumina” and her companions in an orphanage in Tibet?
Although some organizations might manifest questionable fund raising tactics, dispatching one and all with the mere flick of a computer key or tossing them into the proverbial File Thirteen is not the answer. Requests for funds are a reality that the contemporary Christians must embrace as an integral aspect of our spirituality. Becoming angry at “them” is passing the buck of responsibility, so to speak.
The responsibility of making decisions in the face of such a multitude of fund raising requests lies with each person. The neediness of our world is great, and modern technology permits an unprecedented flow of requests: Thank God, needs do not multiply as fast as offset printers and automatic labelers can churn out mailings – not to mention the deluge made possible by the Internet!
In a world where needs like Haiti and ministries of a diocese are very real, it should be expected that requests for assistance are very real and very frequent. Our Christian faith, taking its cue from the Word made flesh, calls us to meet those real needs with the sharing of our financial and personal resources. The sharing of these resources is a genuine sharing of ourselves. It is not just a matter of sharing a few bucks from our surplus.
Herein lies the spirituality of planned Christian giving: We give, not because someone has nagged us or some parish, diocese or organization has bills to pay and creditors to satisfy. We Christians give because our faith calls us to a recognition of the very giftedness of life. Despite legal definitions, everything we “possess” is a gift.
Every human being needs to give, for in giving of ourselves we actually discover the deeper truth of ourselves. That sounds rather philosophical, but experience proves it to be true. Is it not true that the happiest people we meet are those who are generous and self-less givers? And we all know from experience that we are blessed with a sense of wholesomeness and well-being when we have given lovingly and unconditionally of ourselves and our resources. In giving we discover our God-likeness.
Fund raising letters are not going to stop arriving by hand of the mail carrier or bleep of the Internet screen. Their proliferation, nevertheless, calls us to a more conscious, Christian decision about how we are going to share our resources. We are stewards of our resources, not just owners. Our giving must be characterized by a spirit of tithing – simply giving back to God in gratitude a “first portion” of what we have been given.
Christian giving is also characterized by a sense of identifying responsible priorities. Despite their personal attractiveness, not all requests have the same moral claim on our resources. Just as family numbers among the first of our responsibilities, our faith family has first claim – the parish and the local Church or diocese. Charity does indeed begin at home. But that does not justify neglect of the needs of the larger world. It is not a question of either-or, but of both-and. The discernment of these priorities requires prayerful discernment, and not just a calculating sense of distributive justice.
Christian giving also is characterized by personal follow-through. Literally passing the buck into the collection basket, mailing envelope or e-sending money does not lessen the need for personal involvement in caring for the needs of the world. The frequently heard appeal for the gift of time, talent and treasure is a balanced one. All three gifts are necessary for an integrated Christian spirituality. And there is always room to unite in prayer for those in need.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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