Published November 10, 2005
Uh oh, here comes the collection basket. As I fumble in my purse to extract the envelope, I always feel a wee bit guilty. No matter how much I’ve written the check for, I always wonder if it should be more.
Like many Catholics, I struggle day to day with deciding how much to give to God and how much to spend on … well, let’s face it … me.
In the old days, when my husband and I attended a huge church, this giving thing wasn’t such a dilemma. We gave generous portions of our time to the community, and, truth be told, skimped a bit on the treasure part.
In a large parish, it is easy to believe that “somebody else” will handle things. This, of course, is a big deception because if everyone acted that way, the books would never balance.
When we began attending a much smaller church, we started to take money obligations more seriously. After all, in a small group, if you leave the giving to “somebody else,” the community you love may fall into hard times.
Still, the question of how much to give remains an ongoing focus of prayer in my life.
As a writer and part-time librarian, there is no danger that I will ever be rich, but that is beside the point.
In Luke’s Gospel (21:1-4), we meet the poor widow who puts in two small coins as her offering and is contrasted with wealthy folks who give to God from their surplus.
Jesus praises the widow: “She, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
It is interesting that Jesus mentioned that the widow was clear on the exact sacrifice she was making. Today, many folks don’t know exactly what they have, nor are they aware of each dollar they spend.
Many people cannot answer two deceptively simple questions. How much money comes into my life each month? And how much goes out?
A few years ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to drop back to part-time work, so we could spend more time developing our God-given talents: writing for me and artwork for him.
We had to get clear on exactly what we were spending, and why. As a result of our efforts, I can tell you, to the penny, how much I have spent each month, for the past six years, on gasoline, my pets, books, movies, restaurants, medical expenses, clothing—and the collection basket.
This habit of tracking money has helped me live within my means, while also giving me a clear picture of what I spend on necessities and splurges—and on the church.
Of course, money isn’t everything, since the church also cries out for our time. But here’s some advice: It helps to have self-knowledge as you select your ministries.
For example, I am not the person to oversee the big festival or dance at church because my anxiety will drive everyone, including me, crazy.
However, I do have a knack that others don’t have, although, frankly, it is no big deal to me. Since I am not (too) afraid to get up in front of people, a possible ministry is helping out with readings during liturgy.
Another piece of advice: It is incredibly important to avoid deceiving yourself when it comes to choosing your ministries. I suspect that most choir directors can tell horror stories about well-meaning volunteers who couldn’t hit a note even if they had hammers in both hands.
For some mysterious reason, many of these people are drawn to singing. For years, I was one of them.
I have to blame my husband because he has a gorgeous voice and wanted me to sing in the choir along with him. All I can say is that my fellow choir members probably will not have to spend a day in purgatory since they suffered enough here on earth, listening to my voice.
When we started attending St. John Chrysostom’s, Jef had decided against being in the choir, since he wanted to see what it felt like to be back in the pew. After two Sundays, a very nice lady sitting in front of him told him point blank that he should be in the choir.
Fortunately, the pastor and choir director agreed, and since then, my husband has returned to serving God with his voice.
Choosing ministries, then, is not just about what you’d like to do, but what you are really good at. If you like making toast but always burn it, then you would be doing everyone a favor by staying out of the kitchen.
We all have God-given abilities that we can use in our ministries. Some can balance books, while others can teach children. Some can staff soup kitchens, while others can visit shut-ins.
It helps to spend time in prayer and try out different things. You’ll know you’ve found your ministry when you come away from it feeling joyous and energized.
We hold the future of the church founded by Christ in our hands. And whatever we give, whether it is money or time, it is important to do it for the right reasons. Not to rack up brownie points but, like the poor widow in the temple, to show our love for God.
Lorraine Murray’s latest book “How Shall We Celebrate? Embracing Jesus in Every Season” is a series of reflections on holidays and holy days, with illustrations by her husband. His artwork can be seen at www.jefmurray.com. E-mail email@example.com.