Once upon a time: Giving is so much a part of Church teaching

Stewardship of financial resources and support of Bishop’s Appeal critical to a healthy diocese

As I look back on nearly 75 years of formal education in the Catholic faith, I have many things for which to be grateful.

My parents taught me the basic prayers, how to pray the rosary, and how to use the prayer book or Missal (a novelty in those days as English translations of the missal had not been allowed very long).

The Sisters of Mercy (and I was blessed to have them as teachers and friends all 12 years) were master educators and took the teaching of the faith as seriously as they did the living of the faith.

When I entered college (a Catholic one with a very organized religion department and lots of courses—after all, it was a seminary, too), I discovered what a wonderful foundation the Sisters had given us.

I am no memorizer, but they managed somehow to get the basic truths of the faith into my consciousness, much of which I use every day of my life.

There were two areas of education, however, that were not explored in depth: the birds and the bees (theology of the body) and contributing money to the Church (tithing, stewardship).

So yes, we were not only taught that a commandment of the Church is to “contribute to the support of the pastor and the parish,” but also the who (donors), what (how much), why (not because the Church needs it but because I need to give), and when (budgeting salary, allowance, savings, etc. on a schedule).

The Sisters taught us that our parents and other adults took care of the finances. We children were to contribute to the support of the Church by serving at Mass, singing in the choir, helping with the St. Monica baby-sitting society, running errands for the Sisters and priests (we had no lay teachers then) and not misusing furniture or supplies.

In defense of the void caused by the lack of specification, many of the Sisters came from homes where virtue abounded but money didn’t.

Many of them had entered the convent during the years of the Great Depression and talking about money during those years was tantamount to talking about catastrophic illness.

I know of one parish in Tennessee (not in Knoxville) where the highest gift to the church all year was $26.50. Many were able to contribute only a dime a week.

That parish had no bills or folding money in the collection, ever. Fifty years later the young people in that parish had to be taught to tithe (giving 10 percent back to God) and some gave more in one week than their great-grandparents or grandparents gave in a year!

To say that our beautiful churches were built with nickels and dimes is very true, but it is not true today. Stewardship of our money resources is so very necessary if we are to have not only balanced budgets but also balanced lives in the Lord.

The annual Bishop’s Appeal is a genuine blessing because it curtails some of our parochialism and expands our stewardship to very worthwhile areas beyond our parish, which are essential for the Body of Christ, His Church, to remain healthy.

Those areas are Catholic Charities; clergy and seminarian formation; peace and justice efforts; health services (a whole new area of ministry); youth, young adult and campus ministry; and perhaps among the most important of all—continuing Christian Formation.

For several years our East Tennessee area of the vineyard yielded nearly $1 million each year.

Every cent was used for good things but there was not enough money in that diocesan portion (the Bishop’s Fund) to do the kind of things that need to be done to keep the Church alive and well in East Tennessee.

The Bishop’s Appeal goal in 2013 was $1.72 million, and you surpassed that to raise $2.15 million. For 2014, our Shepherd’s goal is to raise $2 million.

I saw a sign in a sacristy of a church in Maryland that said, “Although the Lord prefers cheerful givers, we’re so desperate around here that we even receive money from grouches!”

I enjoy tithing and hope that you will, too.

Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general of the diocese and the pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville.