A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Preaching for dollars

Many people roll their eyes, shake their heads, twist their faces or cluck their tongues when a Church leader starts asking for money.

Some people react that way out of cynicism. Some people think Church should be a commercial-free zone.

In today’s first reading (2 Cor. 8:1-9), St. Paul is beginning a pitch to the Corinthians for contributions to help needy Christians elsewhere (“ministering to the saints”).

Thus we see that even in the first decades of Christianity, even the mightiest Apostles were not above fundraising.

St. Paul gets into the specifics of this effort later, but in this passage he introduces important points: summed up in verse 8:

I speak not by commandment,
but by occasion of the forwardness of others,
and to prove the sincerity of your love.

The last point in this verse is the most important: the Corinthians are being called to “prove the sincerity of (their) love.

We are called to do this as well.

It is very easy for us to say we that we love others because of our Christian faith, but it needs to be real.

If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
And one of you say unto them,
Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;
notwithstanding ye give them not
those things which are needful to the body;
what doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say,
Thou hast faith, and I have works:
shew me thy faith without thy works,
and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
James 2:15-18

How we use our resources (including money) needs to be consistent with what we say is in our hearts and souls.

Secondly, this consistency between faith and action is not only important for our own integrity before God: when we are “forward” in the exercise of our faith and generosity, it is also a powerful witness and example to others.

This witness becomes all the more powerful when it is substantially beyond what is expected, as St. Paul says of the Christians in Macedonia:

How that in a great trial of affliction
the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty
abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
For to their power, I bear record,
yea, and beyond their power
they were willing of themselves;
Praying us with much intreaty
that we would receive the gift...

Sacrificial generosity – giving until it hurts – is indeed a powerful witness to Christ

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that, though he was rich,

yet for your sakes he became poor,
that ye through his poverty might be rich.

This point must be very carefully considered, however, and it brings us to the third point: “I speak not by commandment.”

First, St. Paul means that he is not commanding the Corinthians to give more than they can afford (as the Macedonians did): such giving should be a very free choice.

We must also remember our Lord’s denunciation of those who try to evade their familial obligations for ostensibly religious reasons (Mk. 7:6-13).

Self-sacrifice should be a free choice but it does not release us from solemn responsibilities we may have. For a father to give away his child’s food money, for example, is morally dangerous - very dangerous.

In modern society, however, the risk of excessively generous giving is rare. It is much more common – especially among the middle and upper classes - to be excessively generous in estimating our "needs:" calling many comforts and conveniences “absolutely essential.” This is a challenge for all of us (myself included – miserere mei, Domine).

Finally, when St. Paul says, “I speak not by commandment,” he is not relinquishing his right to speak authoritatively and even commandingly to the Corinthians. Rather, he chooses to exhort through the giving of examples and theological reminders.

So too it is often best for us to exhort others through examples and faith-based reasoning rather than the brusque pronouncing of commandments.

Yet neither should we be shy when exhortations must be made. We should encourage others appropriately to be as generous as we are. By our words and our deeds we must give clear and convincing witness to Christ’s truth and Christ’s love.

Talking about money in a religious setting may feel awkward, but it is important for us to be faithful and clear and to prove the sincerity of our love in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.