Sunday, April 11, 2021

"...And there was no needy person among them"

I thought about going to Mass today because I’ve recently completed my COVID vaccination series but decided against it due to living in the worst outbreak hotspot currently in my country…something about not wanting to inadvertently act as a plague vector though not being able to attend Mass in over a year.  Side note: Unlike many folks, I actually enjoy attending Mass and before COVID was among the Catholic minority attending weekly Mass and the even smaller minority attending daily Mass.  I opted to write a blog article instead.  Hopefully I chose wisely.

 

This Sunday, the first after Easter, always features the “doubting Thomas” gospel.  I’ve written twice before in 2011 and  in 2013 about how countless clergy over the centuries spin this narrative towards painting  the fearful herd sitting in a locked room, avoiding the dreaded “other” (in this case the Jews) as being more virtuous than Thomas, who was out actually imitating Christ without fear of his fellow humans.  My experience is today’s clergy’s behavior increasingly parallels that of the petrified pious pack featured in today’s gospel reading.  So perhaps clergy’s message spinning is their self-exoneration reflex for the power they wield, largely due to fanning flames of fear - of God’s created world and humans.

 

However, rather than exclusively comment on the gospel reading, let's also look at the second reading, Acts 4:32-35 which reads thusly:

 

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,

and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,

but they had everything in common.

With great power the apostles bore witness

to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,

and great favor was accorded them all.

There was no needy person among them,

for those who owned property or houses would sell them,

bring the proceeds of the sale,

and put them at the feet of the apostles,

and they were distributed to each according to need.

 

This passage counts among those that most influence my daily lived faith.  I sometimes quote from it without offering the citation.  Specifically, I’ll say something like, “…they had everything in common…there was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them…and the proceeds were distributed to each according to need.”  The more pious the Catholic and/or the more Republican the hearer, the more likely the other person incorrectly guesses Karl Marx rather than St. Luke as the quote’s source.

 

Let's look at the gospel and Acts passages together now.  By painting the nervous, judgmental and withdrawn crowd as the most virtuous, and having the present-day apostles subsequently imitate that isolation and apprehension, it makes for an en masse perversion of living that passage from Acts.  Church leaders’ power is derived from fearmongering rather than from fearlessly bearing witness to the resurrected Christ via care for the needs of all people.  They mostly fear for their self-preservation.

 

 

Lots of folks donate to their church as their way of living this passage from Acts, believing the clergy will funnel their donations to help other humans.  A group called Charity Navigator rates the health and transparency of charitable organizations.  They do not rate churches, but we can look at their assessment criteria to help us evaluate churches as effective charities, as perhaps, effectively living Acts chapter 4. 

 

Based upon Acts 4, the gospels, and also by reputation, we should be able to categorize churches as human services charities.  According to Charity Navigator’s rating table on finances, human services charities getting the highest rating direct 92% or more towards human services programs and spend only 0-3% of income on administrative overhead.  

 

But what do church leaders, fearful about self-preservation, actually do with that donated money?  In many parishes, most if not all of that donated money goes to the church institution itself – self-preservation: salaries, buildings, schools, etc…  Though the parish may have something like a St. Vincent de Paul society offering food, clothing or financial support, those organizations are not funded by the parish.   For example, a few years ago, I was an officer of a local St. Vincent de Paul chapter and people approaching the local parish seeking financial assistance were invariably sent to us.  However, exactly $0 in funding was sent to us from the parish coffers. 

 

My current parish does actually give to charity, towards “distributing to each according to need.”  Based on my experience being a Catholic for more than half a century, this parish is in the minority.  But, since it is an example, let’s examine their annual report.  It spends 2.2% not on overhead but on human services.  It spends the vast majority on itself, its administration, its buildings, etc… Were churches rated by Charity Navigator as human services organizations, they might find themselves as the topic of an advisory bulletin issued by the organization, warning people that their money does not get used as assumed.

 

This is not unique to Catholic parishes.  Look at the skew of monies your congregation spends on the organization itself versus on caring for other humans, regardless of your faith tradition or denomination.  If monies are primarily spent perpetuating the organization itself, then people’s donations are funding a spiritual country club, designed for members to feel better about themselves rather than to see that “there was no needy person among them.”

 

Donating to a church offers a lazy outlet to pat oneself on the back while claiming imitation of Christ, when in fact, it pretty much moves money from a person’s left pocket to their right pocket.  It’s all about benefiting the donor through institutional self-preservation. 

 

Worshiping Jesus by attending church or praise services is much easier than imitating Jesus because Jesus wasn’t about self-preservation.  Imitation involves completely letting go of one’s money to feed, house, clothe and provide dignity to people regardless of how they came to be in their financial situation.  It requires examining and fixing systems that consistently produce disparate outcomes based upon skin color, religious affiliation or gender.  How are you imitating Jesus to ensure there is no needy person in your midst?

 

What do you think?  Should I have foregone writing today and made myself a possible plague vector or did I choose ok?

13 comments:

  1. At Mass yesterday (we are presently in Australia, and so somewhat ahead of others), our priest recounted a change in his thinking. He had come, after many years and the reading of Amoris Laetitia, to realize that the gospel presents two key elements: that the apostles (who were now the 'faithful ones who knew') did not expel Thomas for having doubts and questioning, but kept him in the community; and that touching the wounds of those who have suffered the vagaries of the world (or even of their own doing) was a clear path to recognising the risen Lord.

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  2. 1. WE have MISSED YOU.
    2. WHAT state do you LIVE in ?
    3. WE cannot go back to MASS because of current BISHOP in PHOENIX, AZ. A SAMPLE of Easter PREACHING.. COMMENTS ??
    EPIC: Catholic Priest Drops Truth Bomb On Joe Biden - Bing video
    4. THANK YOU for many years SUPPORT as I transitioned to HOME CHURCH in rotating homes. I am former DRE in Los Angeles, CA.

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    Replies
    1. You chose great! I didn't end up going to Mass or even doing virtual mass today because of family demands on me (today is my birthday and they monopolize and plan the day) - but I still read the readings and did morning prayer. I too am fully vaccinated as of last Friday. And what struck me about your post was the very part of the readings that caught your attention caught my attention most. So much so that I posted the Acts of the Apostles reading on my Facebook page. Of course nobody liked it or read it but I felt the same thing you did. I guess that is the common Holy Spirit working through us both about the same message. I have always personally admired Thomas - in the end he was one of the more mystical apostles - more in line with John than Paul. Anyway, I think you spent your time wisely.

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  3. You made the right choice. Good to see you writing again. Thank you.

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  4. I believe the US bishops opposition to Francis is basically because they have such a comfortable life style and enjoy being in a position of power and control This is also true of way too many pastors and priests.

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  5. Good to hear from you again and you did indeed choose wisely.

    I have often thought that if Jesus were to use contemporary nomenclature to describe His political/economic philosophy, He would more likely use the term "socialist" than "capitalist." I don't think there is anything in His teachings that suggests capitalism is evil, per se. But while there is nothing sinful about amassing great wealth, there is something quite unChristian about wealth that has been created by exploiting others.

    I also have always thought that Thomas did not deserve the "bad rap" that he seems to have gotten. After all, Thomas is us - - none of us had the benefit of being "in the room where it happened." Yes, Jesus did subsequently reveal Himself at a time when Thomas was in the room, giving Thomas the evidence he had demanded. But to label Thomas a 'doubter' merely because he had the common sense to question the others seems unjust. Demonizing Thomas in this way also unfortunately set the stage for the Church to demean and diminish (if not punish) those who would dare question Church teachings.

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  6. Yea, hooray! Yes, you did the right thing! Glad you are back
    here - hope you'll have time to check my last missive (over a year ago) - the offer still stands! Cheers! Love/struggle,
    Elizabeth

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  7. Oh you fill my heart with hope. I so needed to read your words and challenge. Please keep writing and help feed us....

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  8. So good to see your posting after too long of an absence!
    Love your thoughts and the others who are commenting on this great passage from Acts.
    I'm with you in caution during the increased outbreak of cases in Michigan. But I have found great ways to hear preaching and teaching and sharing from holy folks in and beyond our tradition who are taking seriously the command to share resources so that there is no needy one among us. I agree...you chose wisely and remind us to respond beyond our local experience of Church.

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  9. It is so good to see you posting again. Your thoughts were right on the mark, and made me consider what it is that I do in my own life to create a more equitable world. How do I share in common what I have, and can I do more. How would Charity Navigator rate me? I belong to an Inclusive Catholic Community led by women priests, and it is the question we asked within the last year and determined we could be even more giving of our treasure than we had been. So, we’re in the process of providing funds to non-profit organizations from our excess funds. It is sharing the generosity of our community members with others who are in need. Thanks for your insights, which are always appreciated.

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  10. It is so good to see you posting again. Your thoughts were right on the mark, and made me consider what it is that I do in my own life to create a more equitable world. How do I share in common what I have, and can I do more. How would Charity Navigator rate me? I belong to an Inclusive Catholic Community led by women priests, and it is the question we asked within the last year and determined we could be even more giving of our treasure than we had been. So, we’re in the process of providing funds to non-profit organizations from our excess funds. It is sharing the generosity of our community members with others who are in need. Thanks for your insights, which are always appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Amazing and nice post. It will beneficial for everyone. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post.

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    ReplyDelete