God gives without strings attached
Lent and Appeal remind us that we give, because we have first received
By Bishop Robert Banks
Sometimes things fit just perfectly.
That is the case as we head into the season of Lent. The Church, as it has for centuries, calls us to give generously to the poor and needy as one of the three important ways of observing Lent. (The others are prayer and fasting.) Our Holy Father, John Paul II, in his Lenten message urges us to live this Lent "in practical generosity towards the poorest of our brothers and sisters." And here in the Church of Green Bay, we are invited "to take a step in faith" by giving generously to the Bishop's Appeal.
All three tie our generosity in with our faith. We are called to be generous because God has been so generous to us.
What: Bishop's Appeal, the Green Bay Diocese's annual fund-raiser to support diocesan programs and services offered to parishes and individuals.
Where: All parishes in the diocese.
When: Right now.
How: Making a cash, check or pledge donation. Materials have been sent to homes and also are available through parishes.
Theme: Take a Step in Faith.
Target: $4.6 million.
More information: Click here.
Granted it is easier to give when we see a picture of a child or an elderly person suffering, but, for a Christian, the crucifix should be an even stronger reason. It is because God has poured out his love so generously on us, in so many ways, that we want to give in return.
Because of our faith, we can become more generous, and it works the other way. The more generous we are, the deeper our faith can become.
By "more generous" I do not mean those who are able to give larger gifts will therefore have greater faith. I mean that those who give any size gift, large or small -- but one that is larger than they could give very, very easily, without even missing it -- can experience a deepening of faith. So the widow in the Gospel who gave the two pennies did so out of faith, but most likely also deepened her faith by making that generous gift.
But let's face it, the ordinary person, even acting out of the deepest faith, likes to make sure the gift is really going to help someone or some cause.
When we conducted the diocesan collection for the victims of the Sept. 11 horror, more than a few called to ask where the money was going. They asked why we would send it to Catholic Relief Services, when it seemed that the Red Cross was doing the most. We were able to answer that CRS would make sure that the money was used to help the victims -- and it has and continues to do so.
In the same way, we can assure those who give to the Bishop's Appeal that it is used to help the mission of the Church here in northeast Wisconsin. A significant amount does go to help our parish in the Dominican Republic, where our one priest brings the sacraments, -- and help and hope -- to thousands of the poorest people in this hemisphere. Some also is sent, as required, to support the work of our Holy Father and that of our Bishop's Conference in Washington, D.C. Apart from that, every cent goes to support the mission of the Church here in northeast Wisconsin.
Every year, we receive at least a few letters from contributors to the Bishop's Appeal who do not want us to waste money sending "Thank you" letters or putting out posters and television ads. In fact, I think this year one person was so upset that he refused to make his usual gift. Fortunately, we can point out that a very small percentage of the Appeal is spent on running the Appeal. The figure is less than 10%. As for advertising, it does work. The more advertising and letter writing we do, the more people respond.
Last week, I received a quite large contribution to the Appeal from a friend who said he did not want it to be spent on staff, buildings or bureaucracy. He wanted it to go to children or elderly or the poor. It was easy to meet that request; I just put it toward the fund that helps children go to our beautiful Camp Tekawitha, even when they cannot afford it.
When I meet my friend, I shall explain that what we spend on staff and buildings -- I don't think we have a bureaucracy -- also helps the poor and the mission of the Church. I think of the young woman in one of our offices who handles the New Life fund. The last time I saw her, she was trying to help a new mother and child who were living in a garage. And there is the counselor who told me how he likes working for us because we do not turn away a person who runs out of insurance. Then there is the Sister who accompanies poor Hispanic immigrants to the hospital in order to translate.
As for buildings, where else would we put the counseling offices, the room for the sessions with domestic abusers, the tribunal for those who seek annulments, the audio/visual library to support parish religious education programs, etc.,etc.?
Just about everyone who works in the diocesan offices is in direct service, either to persons and families who need help or to our parishes, schools and institutions. And I am very proud of the dedication and commitment which our employees, my co-workers, bring to the mission of the Church.
So for those who want to make sure that their gift is well used, let me say, "Relax!" Whatever you give will be put to excellent use.
But let me end with the words of Jesus which the Pope uses as the theme for his Lenten message: "You received without paying, give without pay."
We have received the gift of life from God, the gift of forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of a new life of grace in and through the Holy Spirit. God did not require that we show that we are worthy of such great gifts.
In response, we give, first of all, the gift of a holy life and the desire to live our life more and more for the Lord. Part of a holy life is love of our neighbor and care for the poor and troubled. In this way, we hope to share the greatest gift of God to all humanity -- the good news of Jesus Christ. So let us who receive so much without paying, give without pay.