Did you ever hear the story about the farmer who lived alone in the countryside with his dog? After many years, the dog finally died, so the farmer went to the parish priest and said, “Father, my dear old dog is dead. Could you say a funeral a Mass for him?”
The priest replied, “I’m very sorry to hear about your dog. But, unfortunately, I can’t say Mass for the poor creature.”
The farmer said, “I understand. I guess I’ll try that new non-denominational church down the road. Do you think $500 is enough to donate for the service?”
The priest then exclaimed, “My goodness! Why didn’t you TELL me your dog was Catholic?!”
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Well, that’s a silly little story that plays on the stereotype that Church officials are always looking for more money. But I think that stereotype is unfair. In my experience over the years, my pastor mentions money very infrequently. And when he does, maybe once or twice a year, he explains the parish’s financial situation in matter-of-fact terms, and leaves it up to us to do what we can about it.
If you haven’t noticed, a parish is kind of like a small business. Money is needed for many expenses: heat, electricity, phones, insurance, snowplow services, building maintenance, and of course, salaries for the staff. And trust me, folks who work for parishes are not getting rich. They’d probably get a nice boost in pay if they went to work at McDonald’s instead.
Also, don’t forget, churches do not charge admission. When’s the last time you went on the TicketMaster website and bought two box seats for Sunday Mass at $100 each? No, Mass is nothing like a ballgame at Fenway Park or a show at the Bushnell Theater. Mass is completely free. And if you want a funeral Mass for a dearly departed loved one (no, not your dog), and you don’t have any money to make a donation, you’ll still get the Mass—for free.
So, since we don’t charge admission, the parishes have to pass the collection baskets, ask for donations, and conduct various fund-raising events.
The sad thing is, our parishes are really struggling financially nowadays, and yet the stereotype persists that the priests are always begging for money. If they’re going to get accused of asking for money all the time, they at least should have something to show for their efforts. But our priests have the worst of both worlds: they’re accused of being obsessed with money, and yet they have none.
Most Catholics don’t hesitate to spend significant amounts of money each month on Cable TV and cell phone plans. Any yet on Sunday morning, when the guy with the basket comes toward our pew, here’s the decision we struggle with: Do I throw in a five dollar bill or a couple of singles?
Now really, what’s more important in the grand scheme of things: fleeting mindless entertainment and fancy digital toys, or eternity in Heaven?
The financial problems in our parishes could be solved overnight if Catholics donated to the Church o,nly HALF the amount they willingly spend each month on these various digital services. In all honestly, we really wouldn’t feel it much because every time the phone companies and cable providers jack up our monthly bills, we always pay up. So despite our complaints to the contrary, the vast majority of us do have a little extra disposable income.
If we actually donated to the Lord like this, in a short period of time our parishes would be swimming in cash, and our priests wouldn’t have to ask for money; they instead would have to ask for ideas on how to spend it all. And they wouldn’t be tempted by a sizeable donation to hold a funeral Mass for a dog.