February 18, 2015
When I am working in my office or relaxing in my sitting room with a good book, I often have the local classical music radio station playing in the background. While I hardly claim to be an expert in classical music, I do enjoy it. It sets a good atmosphere.
The other day, I heard the announcer explain that it was once again “pledge time” and start to ask for money. He patiently explained that the only dependable source of revenue for the radio station was the donations of those who listened loyally to the station and appreciated the music.
“This station is forever asking for money,” I muttered to myself. “They never seem to stop! They always want more! They never let up! I’m tired of it!
Out of frustration, I was about ready to switch to a country-western station, until it dawned on me, “Wait a minute, Dolan! That’s probably what people say about you! Every time they open their mail, they get a new appeal; every time they come to Mass, they hear of a second collection. They rightly wonder if all we do is ask for money. They say about me (and their pastors) the same thing that I was just complaining about the poor announcer on the radio station!”
I continued my inner monologue, “So, Dolan, here’s the point: do you enjoy the music on the station? Is it important to you? Would you hate to lose it? Do you admit that they need your support? Is it worth it?”
Yes, yes, yes… I found myself concluding. So, I will keep writing checks to them…
And then I prayed that you, my people, when understandably tempted to get weary with the Church’s seemingly non-stop appeals for money, would ask yourselves the same questions before losing patience or refusing to give: do I love my Church? Do I want to support its ministry of sanctifying, serving, and teaching? Would I very much miss the works of the Church if they had to disappear due to no money?
My prayer is that you can answer yes to all these questions, and thus become the “cheerful giver” hailed by the Bible!
I was sharing these same worries—that my people feel all we do is ask for money—with a generous benefactor of the archdiocese, who rarely, if ever, turns down a plea for help.
“Cardinal Dolan,” he replied after I had quit whining, “quit worrying. I was just approached by a political candidate for the presidency who asked for me for $10,000—and I gave it. Then, I was asked by the president of my university Alma Mater (which has an endowment over $1 billion) for a quarter-million dollars— and I gave it. Then, a couple months ago, a museum I support asked for $100,000—and I gave it. We people get asked constantly by worldly endeavors—so don’t you ever apologize for asking for God, His people, His Church! In fact, we should be thrilled that we can be on the giving end, instead of among those who need help! Keep asking! We know the needs of the Church are endless!”
Was I ever relieved to hear that!
You think you get a lot of appeals from the Church for money? You should see how many requests I get daily from needy causes. They ask the archdiocese to help. To whom shall I go! To you! I worry I drive you crazy, but, so far, you’ve never let me down! Thanks!
I bring this tough subject up now because yesterday we began the holy season of Lent. Our venerable traditions posit three ancient Lenten practices: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
We know what prayer is, and to pray more often and more deeply these forty days is our goal; fasting we know about— although some of us find it hard to do!—as we try to eat less and give up favorite foods.
But what is almsgiving? That’s the Bible’s way of describing giving money to the Church to serve those in need.
So, this is a good time, first, to bring up giving money to the Church. A few observations:
— For believers, to give an assigned portion of our income— the Bible calls this a tithe—to the Church to help those in need is not a nice idea, but a duty;
— I’ve heard it said that philanthropy means giving from one’s abundance; almsgiving (or to use another word, stewardship) means giving from one’s need, that is, to the point of sacrifice. I remember my predecessor, Archbishop John Hughes, was frustrated when the wealthy Catholics of New York were less than responsive to his appeal to build St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He then turned to the poor immigrants, who came through! “This cathedral,” he concluded, “will be built by the pennies of the poor, not from the bank accounts of the rich.”
— We suffer in the Archdiocese of New York from the myth that we are wealthy. We’re not! Six years ago, when I was assigned by Pope Benedict to be your archbishop, my predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan (a brilliant administrator and a wise shepherd of souls) surprised me by telling me, “We are not a wealthy archdiocese!” As you can see from the financials we publish annually, he was right!
— Almost all the money you entrust to the archdiocese is used as alms for those in need: struggling parishes and schools, scholarships for poor children; help for pregnant women, single moms and their babies, families, charities, the sick, the elderly, the immigrant, the addicted, and, do not forget, the spiritually poor, who need God’s word, the sacraments, the teaching of the Church. Blessed Mother Teresa used to remark that the spiritually poor are often in more need than the financially poor.
— I hear a lot of excuses for not giving: “you transferred our pastor (or you won’t)’; “you’re merging our parish”; “you are too nice to the gays (or, you’re too mean to them)”; “you’re with the Democrats (or the Republicans).’’ But, I’m asking for a gift, not a bribe. You’re giving to Jesus and His Church, not to the shepherds who lead it, who, yes, are imperfect sinners, like me.
— I have often observed that those who complain that the Church is always asking for money usually are not on our list of those who do give, and are usually the first to protest when a painful decision has to be made to close a service due to lack of funds. For instance, a few years ago, the decision was made to close schools for lack of funds. A prominent graduate complained, and was, of course, given a lot of publicity. The school’s record showed that this person had never given a dime to the school or parish after graduating.
— Another myth is that the archdiocese needs money desperately for a number of reasons: for the cathedral, which is not true, since the repairs are ahead of schedule and below cost, and since our fundraising is approaching $100 million, which is excellent progress; or, for the cost of sex abuse cases, which is not true; or for a “bloated bureaucracy,” which in reality is rather a lean, hardworking staff, as our operating expenses have decreased, and our archdiocesan budget is near balance. By the way, while, as noted earlier, the archdiocese is hardly “rolling in dough,” we are solvent and in decent financial shape.
— While I’ve been talking about almsgiving to your parish and archdiocese, I also highly appreciate your heroic generosity to the needs of the Church universal: Our Holy Father, the missions, and appeals from the poor of the world. Never can I forget your largesse, for instance, to Haiti, after the earthquake, or to the Philippines, after the typhoon, or even to our neighbors after Hurricane Sandy. We are Catholic—concerned for the whole world—not Congregationalists—concerned for our own backyard.
I had better stop, or I’ll give everybody yet another example that “Dolan’s always talking money!”
I hope I’m not, and if I occasionally drive you crazy with my appeals, I apologize.
But, as I’ve tried to show, a solemn duty of our Catholic faith is almsgiving, to give, to the point of sacrifice, to the needs of the poor and needy, served by the Church. This is an obligation of the gospel especially emphasized during Lent.
Since my vocation is to remind you of the duties of the faith, I cannot be shy about bringing the needs of the Church to your generous attention. I’ll try my best not to drive you crazy.
All I can do is:
— let you know of our needs;
— ask your help;
— trust your sense of stewardship;
— ask you to use your alms properly and responsibly
— trust that God will provide—usually through your goodness!
Thank you: a blessed Lent, forty days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving!