October 22nd, 2021
“If you have money, consider that perhaps the only reason God allowed it to fall into your hands was in order that you might find joy and perfection by throwing it away.” – Thomas Merton
“It’s possible to trace the movement of Christianity from its earliest days until now. In Israel, Jesus and the early ‘church’ offered people an experience; it moved to Greece, and it became a philosophy. When it moved to Rome and Constantinople, it became organized religion. Then it spread to Europe, and it became a culture. Finally, it moved to North America and became a business.”
Father Richard Rohr, OFM
Karin and I went out for coffee with Dan on Wednesday. We see Dan once a year when he comes back to the local area from Germany. Dan is a missionary in Germany. He’s lived there for several years already, and he plans on retiring there and making the country his permanent home. Dan returns here every autumn. He spends time with his family, meets with people he knows from Elmbrook Church (a local megachurch with which Dan is affiliated), and he schmoozes for a while with old friends, like us.
Dan spent most of his working life in corporate management. He was a businessman, and the skills he acquired during his career apparently serve him well in his current vocation as a Christian missionary. Honestly, even when he talks about his work, I don’t understand what he actually does. He often mentions going to conferences, doing strategic planning, and planting churches. None of that means anything to me. I really don’t comprehend how he is bringing Christ to people in Germany in any specific or concrete way. I am sure that he is doing good things, but I don’t know what they are.
Two years ago, I met to Catholic missionaries in Mexico, Father Peter and Sister Betty. They lived in a tiny house in Anapra, an extremely poor neighborhood in Juarez. I understood completely what they were doing to bring Jesus to the people in their town. These two elderly people lived in poverty, just like their neighbors. They did what they could to stop the violence in the community. They worked to relieve the suffering of the women and children they met each day. They had very little money, but they used all of it to help others who had nothing at all.
Father Peter and Sister Betty were not businesspeople. They were not part of the American corporate culture, at all.
Several years ago, My wife, Karin, and I switched churches. We had been going to St. Stephen Catholic Church for twenty-nine years. We were actively involved in the life of that parish. Then the church got a new priest. He was involved with business in his previous career. When he came in, all available funds went to pay off the church’s mortgage (we built a new church structure in 2009). Everything became a fundraiser. It seemed like there was no event that did not have a financial aspect to it. This was a huge turn off for Karin and myself. We went elsewhere.
I understand that the new priest was dealt a bad hand. He had to deal with a pile of debt left by his predecessor. He had a duty reduce the mortgage. He did what he thought was necessary.
There is nothing wrong with paying off a mortgage. Karin and I worked hard for many years to pay off the mortgage on our home. However, there are other things to life besides raising money and paying bills. This especially true of the spiritual life. Not everything can be measured by the Almighty Dollar. The most important things, like love, do not have a price tag.
There are Christian religious communities in America that, although they require money to survive, do not worship it. The Catholic Workers live in poverty in order to better serve the poor. Members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society work diligently to aid those who are struggling to make ends meet. Annunciation House, a group that helps and advocates for migrants in El Paso, operates on a shoestring. Not everyone has accepted the nearly universal corporate model.
Two days ago, I was stopped at a red light. A young homeless man was there panhandling. I waved him over to my car and opened the window. I slipped him some money, then I asked him,
“What’s your name?”
He replied, “I’m Mike.”
I told him, “My name is Frank. Take care of yourself.”
We shook hands. He thanked me with his hand over his heart, and he walked away. Maybe he forgot me immediately. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.
I am sure that I could have donated that cash to some well-meaning organization that would have put it to good use. I could have given it to some group with slick advertisements and smooth telemarketers. Mike will use the $20 for God only knows what, and I’m good with that.
I wanted to help a flesh and blood person. I wanted to see him and hear him and know him for at least a moment.
Christianity in America is not always a business.