Monday, November 23, 2009

My right hand and left hand talk to each other all the time

posted Sun, 19 Dec 2004

What do you do when there is a beggar in your church? I mean, during church services? It is not an unusual sight in my parish – we are right across the street from the Catholic Charities headquarters and just down the street from St Vincent de Paul, so we get a lot of street people who wander in for a spell. I don’t mind their presence, as long as they are not disruptive and don’t smell bad.

I do, however, get uncomfortable being asked for money in church. By someone besides the church, I mean. Although it’s an excellent marketing strategy – get people while they are or should be thinking about what it means to be a Christian. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and all that.

But I don’t think Jesus ever told us to enable the alcoholics and drug addicts. Knowing that these people can get food, shelter and clothing across the street makes me less uncomfortable with turning them down.

Which brings me to my next point: I know the right hand is not supposed to know what the left hand is doing, but I don’t like what I think the ushers must think of me as I smile, shake my head and don’t put anything in the basket every Sunday as they are taking the collection.

I know what I thought the few times I helped count the money when I went to the Gucci mass downtown.

[NB: I don’t understand when I read about churches where they discover someone has been skimming from the collection – we had three people count the money together and everyone had to sign. There was a clear chain of accountability and oversight.]

Back to the Gucci mass. It was a very affluent parish, yet the collection was miniscule. I finally mentioned something to one of my friends there – that I couldn’t believe people who were driving Mercedes and Jaguars were contributing less than a dollar apiece each week to the church. Mary Ann laughed and said, “Most members here make stock grants or write one big check a year. This is just the change they give their kids to put in the plate.”

Oh. That made me feel better. It also gave me the very sensible idea of – yes – writing a check once a year. Makes it a lot easier to track things for taxes (which is not why I do it, but as long as it’s there and legal, I’ll take that deduction, thank you) and it makes it easier to plan my charitable giving. My company pays bonus in February, so that’s when I write all my charity checks. Then I don’t worry about it the rest of the year, except for the occasional project that piques my interest.

Back to my current parish – it’s poor. Harpo made some comment last Sunday when he went to mass with me about ‘yuppie chicks keeping it real,’ but I go there because 1) it’s closer to my house than the downtown church (aka “Gucci” mass) I used to attend, 2) I can get away with wearing jeans if I feel like it, 3) I like the mix of people there – Vietnamese refugees and latin American immigrants, and 4) I really like the two Vietnamese priests who run the place. They are staunch anti-communist pro-Americans, not prone to any of this liberation theology or leftist nonsense that some of the Catholic clergy has embraced in the past few decades.

But every Sunday, when the ushers, along with their little girls, walk down the aisle toward me, I want to shrink into the pew. “I promise I am not a miser!” I want to tell them. Well, at least not with respect to charity.

That’s why I was so thrilled that there was a second collection last Sunday. Harpo looked at me with suspicion. “Didn’t they already charge us?” he asked. I explained that this was a special collection for retired religious. (Harpo is not Catholic.) I happily threw a twenty in the plate, grinning at the usher as I did so. I know I was violating that whole hand thing, but really, don’t you think God came out ahead on that one?

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