When it comes to money, we don’t want to talk about it. Most of us do not like to ask or to give. Yet, as true followers of Christ, we must be willing to do both. We must know how to ask for support, like the 72 disciples who were sent out into the villages. We must know how to give support like the Good Samaritan or the Poor Widow.
For true disciples of Jesus, asking and giving become a part of our spirituality. We live out our faith through our asking and our giving. We place our trust in Jesus and follow His commands.
• “Ask, and you will receive” (Lk 11:9).
• “Give, and gifts will be given to you: a good measure, packed together, shaken down and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Lk 6:38).
Through the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Our Lord showed us how to ask and to give. In every one of the six Gospel versions of this story, Jesus first asks someone to give to Him whatever they have before He blesses, multiplies and distributes the abundance of loaves and fishes to others. Only when someone steps forward with total trust to give some seemingly insignificant amount does Jesus act. He asks for investment and contribution from others before He performs great miracles. If we expect abundance in our parishes, we, too, must learn how to do the same.
Tips about Asking
Asking is easier if we are comfortable in our own giving. Just as a good salesperson must believe in the product he sells, we cannot successfully encourage others to give until we have learned to find joy in our own giving. Once we know through our own experience how our giving draws us closer to God, then we have no difficulty inviting others to experience this same joy.
Priests often find asking is easier when they witness their own giving. Some priests will place their own offering in the basket during the Offertory collection. Others openly discuss their own decisions to give in homilies or letters to parishioners. Before he asks his parishioners to make their own stewardship pledge, one pastor discloses his annual salary and what percent of it he is giving to the parish. Another pastor told parishioners he was giving up his annual vacation to make a capital campaign pledge. Once he made that commitment himself, he said he had no problem asking others to make a similar sacrifice to help build a new house for God.
The U.S. Catholic bishops encourage this kind of personal witness from priests. In Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, the resource manual that accompanies their 2002 Pastoral Letter on Stewardship, they state, “Since stewardship is a way of life, and not simply a program of church support, the most important ingredient in any effort to encourage giving of time, talent and treasure is the personal witness of individuals (clergy, religious and lay) who have experienced a change of heart as a result of their commitment to stewardship. . . .An example of this type of personal witness would be for the presider at a liturgy to make a financial contribution or complete a commitment card for time, talent or resources.”
When we ask, we should not view it as begging. We are extending a holy invitation. We are encouraging people to fulfill the teachings of the Gospel. We are inviting the faithful to participate more fully in the life and the work of the Church by uniting their lives, their gifts and their sacrifices with Jesus. This is the greatest invitation we can extend. This is not begging.
It is our job to ask. It is not our job to determine how a person responds. The response of the giver is in the hands of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, when we ask we should encourage people to pray to God for guidance in their giving. Then we must trust God to touch their hearts and guide their response. Our success in asking should not be measured by how much is given. Success is simply having the courage and the trust to ask on behalf of our generous and abundant God.
Since we are asking on behalf of God, it is important that we ask as thoroughly as we can. Some parishes may think it is easier to just ask for time and talent. They ignore the request for treasure, believing the money will follow. However, when we fail to invite people to bring their treasure to God, we overlook all those in our community who may have only treasure to give. Many parishioners today are sadly overworked. Their busy lives are overextended. They feel they have no time to give. If our asking only focuses on time and talent, we subtly tell them we do not need the only gift they have to offer, the gift of their treasure. Our asking must be an invitation to all, to bring whatever gift they can.
Likewise, our asking is not complete if we limit the ways in which people can give. Some people no longer write checks. They prefer to do all of their financial transactions electronically. Others prefer to manage their cash flow by using credit cards for all expenditures — including charitable donations. We may complain that young people or busy people do not give. Yet, these are often the people who prefer to use electronic means of giving. If we do not make this option available to them, we are not fully inviting them to give.
Although the ways and frequency in which people give may change, the liturgical significance of participating in the offertory is always important. All parishioners should be encouraged to unite their lives with the sacrifice of Our Lord by placing some symbol of their sacrifice, gratitude and love for God in the offering basket each week. This active participation in the offertory is important for our own hearts and also as a witness to the community and especially to children. Envelopes can be designed to give parishioners a place to mark that they have already given electronically or monthly. We can add a line on the envelope where parishioners can record a blessing for which they thank God. In this way we can encourage all parishioners to come to the Eucharistic table with something in hand to offer each week.
The Gospels are rich in messages of giving, sharing and living simply. We must not be afraid to proclaim these messages as an encouragement for parishioners who have difficulty finding balance and setting priorities in their busy and overextended lives. The faithful need the strength and the inspiration of Our Lord’s messages on giving to resist the continual temptations of materialism. By connecting giving and sacrificing to the Gospels, we can help Catholics to see giving is not a burden. It is a joy.
Tips about Giving
Parishioners may find more joy in giving if we can help them to see their giving as a mature loving response to God. When we love someone, we want to be with this person as much as possible. We want to give this person gifts — whether he or she needs them or not. Thus, if we truly love God, we give to Him because we feel a strong need to show our love in this way, not because God or the Church needs or demands our gifts.
We should approach our giving to God in the same way we approach giving to any other loved one. We begin by spending time with that person. By spending time with a friend or family member, we often get ideas or clues about what gift that individual would most appreciate. Likewise, by spending time with God — at Mass or Eucharistic Adoration, in sacred reading, prayer and spiritual reflection — we learn what He wants of us. This is where all good giving starts.
When we give out of love, our need to give is much greater than the other person’s need to receive. How many parents tell their children not to buy them gifts, yet the children continue to feel the need to express their love and their gratitude through giving. As beloved children, we should feel that same overwhelming need to give all we can to our abundantly good and generous God.
Parishioners can also find more joy in their giving when they see giving as a way to make their lives holier. Realizing that the word sacrifice means “to make sacred or holy,” we can make our work holier by offering a portion of it to God. If we work 40 hours a week and give 10 percent of our salary to God, it is the same as giving four hours of our work to God. We could commit to give God the most burdensome four hours of our job each week — maybe the tedious staff meeting, the time spent answering endless emails or a boring and routine task. By giving a portion of our work to God, we can make even the most difficult parts of our lives blessed and holy.
As we take steps to increase our giving, we will discover the deep sense of joy and fulfillment which eludes us in more self-centered earthly pursuits. Fundraisers may say, “Give until it hurts.” However, giving only hurts when we give with a clenched heart and a tight fist. Once we open our hearts and our hands to God, giving feels wonderful. We know we are sharing our gifts in exactly the way God wants us to share them. Donations do not have to be painfully pried from our clenched hands. Instead, we joyfully lift up all we have to God with open hearts full of great love, gratitude and joy.
When parishioners see giving as a way to express their love and gratitude to God, to make their lives holier, and to find joy and fulfillment, then their giving becomes abundant. They want to give as much as they can, not as little as they feel they must. The parish soon begins to have more resources to do more for God. Slowly we can shift from constantly making budget cuts to having extra resources to initiate new work for our God. And there is always more work for us to do for Him! TP
SUSAN PAUK ERSCHEN served as the director of Stewardship Education for the Archdiocese of St. Louis from 1999 through 2011. She currently is the Archdiocese’s Stewardship Education Consultant, while also doing other stewardship and development writing and training.