One of the dreariest tasks of a parish priest is to stand up and ask for money. One can almost hear the moans of the parishioners and hear them thinking, “Here we go again. Father’s always asking for money. That’s all he ever thinks about is money.”
This complaint is more accurately aimed at the complainer. Father Frugal — like most priests — loathes asking for money. It is the grudging parishioner — Mr.Cashback — who is always thinking of money — otherwise he wouldn’t be grumbling about it.
During this season of Lent we stop and remind ourselves that almsgiving is one of the three expectations for a good Lent along with fasting and prayer. A request to give one’s money away is most painful because the request for alms is about far more than money.
Money itself is not the issue. It’s not money. It’s what money buys: security, prestige, power, control — and most of all power over oneself and one’s decisions. If we gave up our money we’d have to trust in God instead of our bank account, and that is the real test.
Fr Frugal does not ask for money for himself. He asks for money to save your soul.
It is really quite simple. You cannot get into heaven if you worship some other God. You cannot serve God and money. This simplest of Sunday School lesson is somehow the one most difficult to understand. If you wish to get into heaven you will — sooner or later — have to overcome your love of money. You thought the priest was asking for money so he could have control over you. In fact, the good priest asks for your money not so he can have control over you, but so that your money will not have control over you. He does not ask for money to enslave you, but to set you free.
When we give sacrificially we tell our money who’s boss. We take control of the money rather than the money taking control of us. It is all too easy to be possessed by our possessions, and all too easy to forget that if we are possessed by anything other than the Holy Spirit we are possessed by a kind of demon, and the way to exorcise the demon of greed and the false idol called mammon is to give our money away.
What we cannot see is that most of us are hooked on money just as certainly and demonically as a drug addict is addicted or an alcoholic is dependent. Drugs and booze make them feel good about themselves and their world. Drugs and booze give them an artificial high. Same with money. It makes us feel good about ourselves and the world, and like any other artificial stimulant — the high soon fades and we need more and more and will never be satisfied. Giving alms is like giving up a drug, and it is just as difficult.
But just like giving up a drug, the practical effect of sacrificial giving is an authentic freedom. When we give alms we are breaking the chains that bind us.
This is how it works: when we give generously — I mean really generously — we shift our values. Our mind is changed. We come to realize that we do not need so much. The old car we have will do. Soon we don’t care so much about the clothes we needed to impress people and the extra luxuries we needed to reassure ourselves and build our self esteem. By giving generously we become more contented and we really do need less. The sooner we realize we have enough, the sooner we have enough.
Until Catholics in the United States learn this lesson, the church will continue to be ineffectual, weak and complacent. As long as American Catholics continue to rely on cash rather than Christ, the church will be a sleeping giant.
Finally, every action of sacrifice releases spiritual power into the world. Through sacrifice God’s grace is poured out and great things are accomplished. They are accomplished not just because good people now have the money to do God’s work. They are accomplished because through the sacrifice of giving alms human will aligns to God’s will. Pride and the worship of mammon are broken and God’s great and loving power is unleashed on a dark and needy world.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is “The Romance of Religion“. Visit his blog, browse his books at dwightlongenecker.com.
Catechesis teaches us what to believe and how to behave, but Catholics also need down to earth advice for putting their faith into action. Lent is one of the times to make a new resolve, roll up our sleeves and make some spiritual progress.
Fr. Longenecker writes here on the need for almsgiving. He also provides practical advice on prayer and the Catholic life in many other places. For help in your practice of the Catholic faith sign up for FaithWorks! — Fr Longenecker’s free, weekly newsletter on the practical practice of the Catholic faith.
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