Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Help! My pastor wants to make the church pretty, and I want to feed the poor!

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Sound like any parishes you know?

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Aletetia: Why be either/or when we can be both/and?

Katrina,

At my parish the priest has started a fundraising campaign for church renovations. He’s trying to raise a hundred thousand dollars to purchase statues, install a mural, fix up the confessionals, and add an altar rail. He also wants to remove the carpet and install some faux marble laminate at the altar. My church is a small country parish and it doesn’t make any sense to me to waste that kind of money when there are other people in REAL need at my church. There are lots of other ministries that could use that money. I makes me so mad every time Father brings up his fundraiser. I really want to tell him what a waste I think I is before he bankrupts the parish.

Barbara

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Dear Barbara,    

I can tell you’re passionate and devoted to your parish. I can also see you being the type of person to recognize a ministries in need … and then coordinate your own parish fundraiser.  

Which is exactly what I recommend you do. If there are people in financial need or ministries that help the needy but are lacking in resources, then by all means, volunteer to start a fundraising campaign of your own for them, that co-ordinates with the parish.

I can also tell that Father is passionate and devoted to his parish. I see he’s also the type of person to recognize a spiritual need in the parish and respond accordingly. You see, Father is helping the needy. He’s addressing the spiritual needs of the parish he shepherds. This isn’t a wasteful venture, far from it. People need beauty to lift their minds and spirits to God.

I have heard it argued over and over again that the Church should sell all its art and treasures to feed the hungry. Then what? The hungry are fed today, but what about tomorrow? What about the hungry of the future who are now not only physically starving but have no beauty as a refuge from the harshness of their existence? You know who else had that same argument? Judas.

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” (NAB John 12:3-5).

Please understand, I’m not calling you a Judas (God forbid!), but Jesus made it clear that there are necessary expenditures of both practicality and of devotion, and that both involve participation in the life of faith. The message Jesus gave us is that it doesn’t have to be a question of “either/or”; it can be “both/and.”

I sincerely doubt this renovation project will bankrupt the parish. Things like this are typically planned out well in advance and need to get diocesan approval. And it’s a fundraiser, so people are free to contribute or not. People aren’t going to stop donating to parish charities they’re committed to simply because Father introduced another fundraiser.

I know you consider the parish your home, but it’s also home to all the other members of the congregation. It’s home to the Most Blessed Sacrament and home to where the pinnacle of our faith, the Mass, is celebrated every day. Shouldn’t we have a duty to make this home as beautiful as we can? And don’t the poor also deserve access to beauty?   

I think if you went to Father, aired your concerns and accused him of being wasteful, he’ll remind you that people need more than their temporal needs met. So, I have three suggestions:

1.) Before you do anything, offer up a prayer of gratitude that you have an energetic and industrious priest who’s invested in his parish and who desires to bring the rich liturgical beauty of Catholicism’s traditions to the faithful.

2.) Ask God to show you how you can help the poor in a way that partners and cooperates with your parish.

3.) Offer to work with your pastor’s fundraising efforts, even as you begin your own, as a demonstration that yes, we serve the body, the mind, and the spirit. It might be a good thing for both of you!

I would also recommend that you take a look at Elizabeth Lev’s ongoing series at Aleteia, exploring the way art has not only beautified churches, but given instruction and even responded to the times. I also highly recommend Sister Wendy’s art series, available on Amazon, or any of her books available on loan from your local library. It wouldn’t hurt to learn more about the artistic traditions of the Church. I truly believe this knowledge will bring deeper meaning and appreciation to your faith.

I wish you the best.

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