This weeks’ Gospel is a peculiar one. It features two characters in the parable that Jesus tells. There is a widow and a judge. In ancient times, widows and orphans were the most defenseless and vulnerable members of society. Unless a widow had an adult son, she had no social standing. The other featured character, the judge, is cynical and respects nothing. One would imagine that an interaction between these two would come to nothing; yet surprisingly, the widow wins her case. She prevails not because she had any political or societal clout or even because the judge is honest or compassionate but rather because of her persistence. She will not accept “no” as an answer and finally the judge simply wishes to be rid of her.
The point of the parable is that if a powerless widow can wear down a corrupt judge by her persistence alone then how much more can be expected from God, the just and merciful judge. Yet the underlying reality in the parable is the unstated realization that while we must be bold and persistent in prayer, we must acknowledge that God’s ways are always ours and that His timing is not always ours. The parable suggests that prayers are answered but not always in the way we would prefer to have them answered or in the time frame that we set.
One area of parish life in which I have been less than persistent is speaking about parish funds. We do magnificently well in major fundraisers, such as Generations in Faith or the Annual Catholic Appeal. In fact, because of your generosity in those Appeals, the funds returned to our parish have permitted us to make repairs that might not otherwise have been possible. The air-conditioners have been completely renewed; the rear steps to the Church Hall have been rebuilt; the side front steps to the Church have also been completely rebuilt and the central stairs of the Church have been realigned and pointed. New tables and chairs were purchased for the Church Hall and the woodwork of three of the parish buildings (school, Brothers’ House, and rectory) have been painted – a job sorely overdue! Most of this work was very expensive but your kindness
permitted it to be done.
But as in your own homes or co-ops, there are major expenses such as those outlined above; however, there are the everyday (and usually not as dramatic) expenses. There are salaries to be paid to our lay workers and clergy. There are escalating liability insurance costs to cover all of our buildings. There is the Diocesan assessment which helps to maintain the works accomplished by the Bishop’s Office and other Diocesan Offices. There are taxes, especially the water tax and social security taxes for our employees. There are pension funds and health insurance and there are the ordinary repairs and maintenance of our property and buildings. There are contract services for our mailing machine, copiers, landscaper and accountants. There are utilities and they are most definitely not free.
The source of funding for these expenses is primarily the weekly collection and it is here that we limp. Unlike the lady in today’s Gospel, I have not been persistent in asking for an increase in our weekly giving. I hate to use our very valuable time together on Sundays to talk about money when we have so little time to talk about the reason for the whole infrastructure – the Gospel! But it must be done if we are to continue to have a healthy parish.
I use the weekly envelopes and I must ask myself whether or not the ten dollars I put in each envelope is enough? Should I give (back) more? After all, a halfway decent bottle of Scotch costs at least twenty dollars. If you persist in smoking, a carton of cigarettes will put you back over one hundred dollars. If you commute on the subway a one-way fare will be $2.75. If you prefer a little more comfort and style in your commute and use the Long Island Railroad; off-peak for a senior’s round trip will be over eight dollars. A cup of coffee (especially the specialized brands) can cost several dollars and a reduced senior rate movie ticket still costs about seven or eight dollars. That amount will rise if you like popcorn and soda!
Having said all this I challenge myself and you to think about the ordinary costs of running this parish. A dollar in the collection, unless you are in very tight financial circumstances, does not cut it. A dollar! For some that is too much! Some folks observe the basket passing them and put nothing in it. They consider it an intrusion on their prayer life. Well, if those prayers are to be said in a warm church with lighting or an air-conditioning in the summer, we need funds. No contractor calls me to tell me that since we are such wonderful people at Our Lady of Mercy Parish, that the lights, repairs, heating, air-conditioning will be free. Would that they were but they are not! Our average weekly collections range in the area of five to six thousand dollars and frankly that just about pays the bills of any given week. Very little is left to put into savings. So there’s the challenge! Taking a page from the lady in today’s Gospel about praying persistently, our ordinary giving must also be persistent if we are to maintain our parish plant and continue to make it a source of justifiable pride in our Forest Hills/Rego Park/Kew Gardens neighborhoods.
Monsignor John McGuirl