Do you inspire others to give?

11-11-2018Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

On a visit to the city of Rome, some years ago, a person I was with had never been before and upon seeing the hundreds of churches, he remarked, “these people must really love God.” So many generations of believers gave of their time, talent and treasure to build some of the most magnificent Catholic Churches in the world. I often wonder when people visit our country what impression are they left with? Obviously, the buildings that stand out the most are the tallest skyscrapers and most of them are used to house financial institutions, banks, investment firms, and insurance providers. I guess someone could walk away, after seeing all that and conclude that we really love our financial security. It raises the question, that ironically is found on our currency, In God We Trust, do we really?

In my very first assignment as a priest, I was in a city parish that was quickly shrinking. Two of the parishioners, an older couple really left an impression on me. They were on a fixed income and had age related health problems so their budget was extremely tight. Yet they were faithful members of the parish and despite their poor circumstances found ways to give to the Parish. Each Friday, they fasted and instead of a meal they prayed the Rosary together for the Parish and they used the money they saved from fasting as their weekly offering. It wasn't much but it was really a lot. It was true sacrificial giving.

Whenever finances, whether personal finances or the Parish finances take me to a place of worry and fear, I remember that elderly couple. Usually I feel instant shame that I am not trusting God. I see their faces joyfully making their Sunday offering each week and my fears evaporate and I am once again reminded to put first things first. If they could trust God then why shouldn't I? Years after I left that parish I learned that the couple had died within six months of each other. They did have a Life Insurance Policy that covered their final expenses and what remained, they left to the Parish! Even in death, they decided to be sacrificial givers!

But why do we give? Is it just to support a cause or a project, fixing the roof or the AC or supporting a ministry? Well, that’s part of it. But we give because it is first and foremost and act of worship. All through the Bible there are reminders to give back to God our first fruits. The Biblical word is tithing. We give because we have a need to give, it’s part of our human DNA. And when we give we find joy. Giving pulls us out of ourselves and reminds us that there are greater purposes for which we were made.

As Thanksgiving draws near we are pointed in the direction of gratitude. In fact, the history of our country is intertwined with a people who give thanks for what has been, what is and what will be. When our parishioners, and I hope you can participate, pack and deliver Thanksgiving food boxes and turkeys on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 8am, each one will know the joy of giving. When you encounter another who is in need and respond to their need and accompany them in their moment of need and see the gratitude on their face, you will understand the joy of being a generous giver. No other lesson is needed. We just concluded our annual FullCircle Program Banquet and when a parent says to me, “thank you Father, you saved the life of my kid”, there is no greater joy for me and no greater inspiration for me to continue giving.

So, we are now presented with an opportunity for some extra-ordinary stewardship. That is giving over and above our normal giving or tithing. Our participation in the Diocesan, Together Let Us Go Forth/Juntos Sigamos Adelante Campaign will be successful if each and every one of us participates in some sacrificial way. While we all can’t give the same gift, we can all make the same sacrifice.

As I personally participate in the Campaign and pledge my sacrificial gift, I think of that elderly couple from my first parish, now long deceased. What I can say about them is that in their poverty they were extremely rich, they focused on abundance and not scarcity. They inspired others to give.

Will that be how people remember you?

Love, Fr. John B.

PS We have just a few of them left among us, that is WWII Veterans and on this Veterans Day, I salute them and thank them for their generous, sacrificial giving to our Country. We live in freedom because they did not hesitate to give. I especially thank Mr. Vince Galgano, who served in WWII and at 100yrs old never misses Sunday Mass! God Bless!