Write In Between

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pretend Almsgiving

My daughter's religion class is conducting a poll of people of different ages. What three things would you do if you were given two million dollars?

In a world of "millionaire" television game shows and reality-TV contests, I guess this is a pressing question. What would I do?

I'd do what I've always done. And here, I'd have to speak in a "we" because my husband and I never make financial decisions over $200 alone. But with all money "windfalls" we've received in the form of gifts, raises, or the occasional stock option, the answer is the same: we tithe the first portion- usually 5 to 10% - and then prayerfully decide how the rest is spent.

So, let's pretend I've got 2 million on hand.

The first portion would be given away... Let's say $200,000. And honestly, its a toss up. Between Catholic Relief services to alleviate suffering somewhere in the world--the needs are so obvious, or maybe to the Archdiocese of Boston to buy back a church in the red that needs to stay open. The closing of churches in the diocese has been heartbreaking, and keeping a church open is one way to push back the darkness that has engulfed this ground zero region in the aftermath of "the double scandal" Catholics have experienced in both the sexual abuse cases and the monumental closing of 60+ parishes. I'm not making a political statement here. I even understand that those two events are not related, but if I had the chance, I'd want to fortify the local church in some way.

Then, I'd probably pay off the mortgage. I know this is old fashioned and not a very enlightened approach to modern financial wisdom. But, I'd probably pay it off anyway, or else sell the house for something closer to town and then pay that one off. Hard to know. But I'd do all of that with the mind to help the next generation... with education.

Educational costs for Catholic education and for college have easily put these options out of reach for so many. My husband and I have been saving like crazy, despite having several debt-ridden years earlier in our marriage. We are on good financial footing now, but we know how tenuous that can be. So, short of getting our kids through college, I think we'd like to be benefactors for some of the family members coming up behind us, and maybe a few outside of that, depending on how far that stretches.

But all of this is "let's pretend." A fun little exercise. However, its an exercise that can have real indications for how we are wired, and what our attitudes toward money are. I reread the above and wondered if I truly could be so altruistic given such a vast amount. I wonder if I'd be tempted to just blow the whole thing on a beachfront property somewhere. (And then I'd have to found a Catholic retreat house on site, right?)

But for 23 years, we've had a tithing mindset, ever since we were first married. We were once counseled by a wise Catholic pastor who suggested this formula: Take that 10% tithe and give 5% to the church over the course of the year, and then ask God what to do with the rest of the 5%. The "other 5%" has had many descriptions through the years. When we've followed our hearts, we gave that remaining money to pro-life charities and pro-family causes, even a few political ones worthy of our hard-earned dollars. This approach to tithing also left us money in our "tithing" budget to help out family members in financial trouble, or to give money/food/etc to the unemployed persons we knew. Now and again, we've sponsored folks doing mission work in third world countries. Or helped families right here in our own mission field by helping pay tuitions for Catholic school families. In other words, if an "emergency" came up, our tithe allowed us to be generous and charitable towards the emergency without having to calculate the cost. We just did it.

I think if you take the "let's pretend" idea of what would you do with your money if you could help others with it? You'd almost automatically hear the direction that God wants you to move in right now, even in the simplest, smallest financial ways, in your Lenten almsgiving... or perhaps even your annual almsgiving.

Copyright 2006 Patricia W. Gohn

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