First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO?
We All Want to Help When Tragedy Strikes, But How
Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

This is the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. Our hearts are broken these days, over the suffering of people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean due to storms and earthquakes, people close to Jesus on the cross, folks yearning now, and working hard for, some of the victory and resurrection won by Jesus on Calvary.

We can’t let them down. We are with them, not only our brothers and sisters in our Catholic family, but with all who suffer.

The response in charity has been radiant. At a time in our history where division and acrimony seem to dominate, to see humanity unite in compassion for those drenched, shaken and homeless has been a tonic.

Listen to one example. Last Friday I flew up to Syracuse to join the diocese there in the joyful rededication of their restored cathedral.  In the airport coming home, one of the porters—so, not wealthy, a guy who survives on tips—stops me and whispers, “Father, can I give you some money and ask you to get it to the people in Florida and Texas who really need it!”

That’s humanity, that’s America, that’s the Church at their best.

Here’s where I struggle: when these tragedies hit, we as a Church want to help, no doubt about it. But...how?

Which brings up the touchy question of second collections! Sorry to bring it up...

I remember as a teenager back in 1964 watching my home parish go through the turmoil of all the changes in the Mass. Most folks, I remember, found the changes refreshing. One old-timer, though, a neighbor I revered, groused, “I don’t like all these changes! The only thing that hasn’t changed in the Mass is the announcement every Sunday, ‘Today there will be a second collection?’”

A humorous example of what we all have to admit:  we all want to help people in need, but...we all hate second collections!

Which always presents me with a dilemma:  when do I ask our pastors and their people for a special collection?

See, we already have a mandated second collection at the rate of about one every six weeks. You know those causes: the missions, the Holy Father, Catholic Relief Services, Black and Native American missions, the Church in Latin America, etc. You know all of these. In fact, you usually have envelopes already in your packet for these mandated second collections. These are not surprises. They are all excellent causes.

However, the additional requests for money don’t stop there. Each parish usually has an occasional legitimate second collection, maybe to reduce debt, maybe to support the school or religious education, maybe for a parish project.  Fair enough...

But, there’s more. You’ve got your pastor and lay leaders in the parish there asking for our very promising Renew and Rebuild capital campaign, (which is going amazingly well, by the way, thank you), and the Cardinal’s Annual Stewardship Appeal (poised to go over goal again, thank you!). There we go again, asking for more money!

Wait, there’s more! As you leave Mass each Sunday, you are usually “hit up” again: raffle tickets for the youth group, pancake breakfasts for the scouts, car washes for the school, on and on...all great causes!

And, don’t forget the requests you get by mail! Your old grade school, high school, college, religious orders, or different Catholic causes you love and support. The list goes on...

What I’m asking is this: is there a danger of what they call “donor fatigue”? Is there the peril that Sunday Mass, a time for prayer, worship, community, peace, and encouragement, becomes an occasion of constant fund-raising?

We sure don’t want to become like those Jesus threw out of the temple because they had turned it into a marketplace!

I guess what I’m doing is letting off a bit of steam. What I hear from you, my beloved priests and people, is, on one hand, that you want the Church you cherish to be an energetic agent, in the name of Jesus, of love, service, and outreach to those in need...but, then, on the other hand, I hear you say, “I’m tired of the Church always asking me for money!”

What I usually do, when a crisis hits, like the storms these past weeks, is simply invite—not order—our pastors (who, along with me, really feel the heat of asking for money too often) to invite their people to donate to a second collection (or a collection box ) if they wish. My read is that, in crisis conditions like now, with Harvey, Irma, and the earthquake in Mexico, our people are looking for a way to contribute, that they trust their Church (thank God!), and that they know their Church will get their alms to the people—Catholic or not— who really need it.

Last Saturday, I brought up this question to our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (as each pastor has a parish council, I have an archdiocesan pastoral council), and, as usual, they offered wise comments. 

They urged me to err on the side of trusting that, while our people might grumble, they also very much want to help and give. Your representatives liked the idea of inviting, not mandating, special collections for emergency causes.

Then they made a very practical suggestion: perhaps we bishops needed to set up a domestic version of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). I hope you recognize CRS as the acclaimed agency of Catholic Americans that brings aid to suffering peoples around the world. CRS is so effective, but, by mission, can only help abroad, not at home. And, rightly so, I might add.

The archdiocesan pastoral council wondered if we needed a standing fund, dependent upon one annual collection to fund it, which could then respond to crises here at home (e.g., Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma). Thanks, archdiocesan pastoral council, for another good idea. I’ll bring that up to my brother bishops.

Thanks for listening. Here’s what inspires me: true, some may complain that there are way too many requests for money for urgent needs, and they may have a point. But...you always come through!

So, two weeks ago, I had to decide: should I invite our pastors to take up a second collection for those suffering from Harvey? Labor Day Weekend, back-to-school, a second collection already mandated (Church in Latin America) for this month, Renew & Rebuild Capital Campaign going on in phase II parishes...oh, good Lord, should I put the invitation out there?

As you know, I did...and you came through again! Thank you!

I just wanted you to know that I hear you, however stinging it might be, when you comment, “That darn archdiocese [or parish] is always asking for money!”

I also hear you tell me—and this is hardly stinging but consoling—we want our Church to be on the frontlines of care, charity, assistance, and evangelization; we know that takes money, and we expect to be asked.

Whatever, however, whenever, wherever...the victory is ours through the cross of Christ.

“We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee!  Because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world!”

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