Monday, September 28, 2009

Letting go of money (Sunday homily)

(These are my notes, adjusted by my memory of how I delivered this homily three times this past weekend...)

Looking at that second reading, we might make a couple of points:

1) St. James is not indicting everyone who has wealth,
but those who misuse their wealth, and the power that goes with it.

2) Many of us who wouldn't call ourselves wealthy would--nonetheless--
by James' standards be considered wealthy, if we:

> own our own homes
> have savings and investments
> own nice stuff
...because James is contrasting those who have security in wealth with those who do not.

James' point is not that wealth is bad, but that it has perils.
Have you not found that when we have possessions, what we own possesses us?
When you own things, or have responsibilities for a business and so forth,
these things occupy our thoughts and cares.

I experienced this when I decided to enter the seminary.
Before I did so, I had a job with some responsibility; I owned a nice car,
on which I had payments to make; and I owned a home, with a mortgage.
When I entered the seminary, I gave up the job; sold the car and bought a cheaper one,
with nothing owed; and sold my house.
While I was sad to give up those things, it was very freeing--
especially not to owe anyone a penny.

Well, I've come full circle--while I don't own a lot,
I do have plenty of responsibilities for this parish and the other parish
and it occupies my thoughts and cares.

When we find that these things overwhelm us,
the only thing to do is a prayer of surrender--
of turning these things over to God--and that can be very hard to do.
Often, we can only do that when our backs are against the wall
and we finally admit we can't handle it all on our own.

For me, it comes late at night, when I am turning things over in my mind,
and I can't sleep, even though I need to; it's when I'm finally exhausted that I let go.

But that letting go--loosening our grip--is what we need to do.
Not giving up, but giving over--to God who is ultimately in control.

A funny thing happens sometimes--people who have wealth or responsibility,
sometimes just decide to give it up.
This is not just a feature of the religious life, it's one of its principal attractions,
the vow of poverty.
St. Anthony--not of Padua, who helps us find lost things,
but of Egypt, from a long time ago, was one of the first monks.
He inherited a lot of money, and like many of us, decided to give part of it to God.
But that wasn't enough for him; so he gave most of it to God,
keeping a little for himself. Ultimately, he gave it all away.

Those who enter the vowed, religious life, this is one of the great attractions:
making this radical gift to Christ.
It was the same with St. Francis of Assisi, who even gave over his clothing.

But what about the rest of us, the majority of us who won't make a vow of poverty?

This is why giving part away is important--this is the spiritual rationale for that.
Just like fasting or penance or other spiritual exercises,
giving a part of what we have away helps us not hold the grip too tightly.
Of course, if we have money to give away, that's wonderful,
and thank you for your generosity to the church;
but it is also giving talent and time away too.

And when we give these things away,
we realize another kind of wealth we have: Christ!
His mercy and his presence are a bank account that is never empty.
As we take part in this Mass, perhaps we realize we need to let go a little more;
but take this opportunity to seize--with both hands!--
the great wealth that is Christ! He is our true wealth--in this life, and for eternity!


Lavinia Tai said...

We all want to make lots of money, to get married and have children, to enjoy ourselves and live a comfortable life. This is human nature. What is so unique about our priests is - they forgo all earthly treasures, their career and marriage and even themselves to serve God and to serve us. I just couldn't think of any other nobler vocation than that. May God Bless You, Father.

Greta said...

Many today are going through tough times and by force are making changes in their lives to downsize. A friend recently going through this made the same point to me of his new life without things he use to think brought him joy. His new job is making about half, but in it he is doing things he truly loves and that contribute something positive to others. I have never seen him happier.

I have served on the finance committee of a parish for years. I want to try and take things off the platter of our priests in every way possible. However, I also see a lot of pushback from th priest who seems to be clinging to control of the finanaces and in doing so, he also seems to be losing a very visible spirituality he once possessed. Do you have some advice father on how to get this priest to let go more to allow us who live in the daily world of finance to help him more. There are some very amazing people on this committee dedicated to the parish and never wanting in any way to bring any negative issues in what we do to the parish or the Church.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Well, you could be a member of my finance committee, that priest could be me!

Here's the challenge: for me--and I'm guessing perhaps for that pastor--it may be these other issues:

1) the pastor is accountable and will be held accountable, no matter what.

2) the budget includes what people are paid, and other confidential data, and the pastor may be trying to protect that.

3) control of the budget = setting the agenda for the parish, to the extent this or that priority costs any significant amount.

Of course, not knowing more, these are only guesses--but they are issues that have come up here. As much as I would like to, I don't think I can completely turn over the finances to the finance committees here, for these reasons.

Anonymous said...

Being concerned with finances and the budget is fine until a pastor becomes so obsessed by it that he cancels hospital visits, neglecting visits to the home-bound and nurshing homes, or other pastoral duties. Then it becomes a problem.
As far as your concerns:
1. Accountability - that may be true but I think that the overwhelming number of finance committees are competent enough and should be trusted by the pastor. After all, it's their parish.
2. My opinion is that all those salaries should be public knowledge anyway. If the parishoners are paying for them they have a right to know.
3. Setting the agenda. That job belongs rightfully to the parishoners, represented by the parish council. They should set the agenda.
Those three reasons are pretty flimsy and your conclusion seems to be a grave disservice to those folks on your finance committee, unless they are totally imcompetent.
You sound like a control freak.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for your comments, although the insult wasn't necessary.

1. What I can tell you from my limited experience, and what other pastors and what folks who have been involved as parishioners over many years tell me, is that an awful lot of parishioners will, nonetheless, hold the pastor accountable first and last.

But it's not an either-or. The finance committees have the task of reviewing financial statements, asking questions, offering expertise. In my case, I have two finance committees, one for each parish. Whatever data they want, the parish business managers give them. We talk periodically about good business practices, and how well our operations measure up. We talk about budgets and expenses. But the thing is, most expenses are more or less fixed. We don't have as many options as some might think.

My point was that the pastor still has to be well acquainted with all this, and be able to give an account of it all to parishioners.

2. I disagree about making salaries public, and that is not just my own opinion as a "control freak" in your words. There are legal issues involved, as well as morale issues.

I buy a lot of groceries at Krogers, and I own stock in some companies; but neither entitles me to know what these companies' employees get paid.

3. Setting the agenda...well, what I had in mind was, for example, what sort of religious education or youth programs a parish might have. It would normally be the pastor who oversees this, hopefully having staff or volunteers to help as DRE, principal, teachers, catechists, and the like.

I'm not aware of pastoral councils in Catholic parishes being in charge of making such hiring decisions, or deciding curriculum, etc.

But because these involve expense, they are part of the budget, so they do involve the finance committee. My point was, the pastor cannot simply leave it to the finance committee--he needs to stay involved.

So, I may indeed be a "control freak," but I stand by my observations to Greta--which were, if you recall, speculative, and offered in response to the concern she herself raised.