Pastor’s Pen… a word from the heart

by Fr. Don Farnan

I’m guessing that most of you are more adept at cyber communications than me. But early on, I was told that if we wanted Saint Charles to make any kind of impact or have any kind of future, I needed to reach out through social media. Gina Rupnow, communications director for SCB, has me writing blogs and offering video chats to present the church in ways that are relevant to our times and especially to those living on the margins of religious faith.

If you access our parish website you can go through the catalogue of blog topics and columns for 2017. It is there, also, that you can view the pastoral videos. These brief (one to two minute cameos) were put together by Thom Hiatt, alumnus of our school, who now runs a business in La Jolla, California, called Faith in Marketing. Combining his incredible talent in film, his interview skills, and deep faith, Thom is a natural in advancing the Gospel message. We should be very proud of him and others who have walked the halls of our school and knelt in this beloved church, whose vocations were formed on this sacred ground.

The most recent video segment is on the topic of tithing. As most of you know, tithing is a biblical concept that defines part of our covenant relationship with God; it means “a tenth portion” and refers to giving our best to the Lord. We are to give the first fruits of our labors, like Abel did in the early chapters of salvation history and like so many patriarchs that followed him. We are to give our Sunday, the first day of the week to honoring Him. We are to give the gift of ourselves for His greater glory. Whether it’s our time, our talents, or our treasures, we are to give the first portion to advance His work in our world. If everyone in our parish tithed, i.e., gave a tenth of our waking hours to serving others, a tenth of our income to our church and school, a tenth of the blessings with which we have been entrusted to build up His kingdom, we would have far more than we need to do what we are here to do. But experts tell us that Catholics give about 2% of their income to their churches—far short of the biblical standard.

By now, you are well aware that we are digging our way out of a huge financial hole where, for many years, our expenditures have outpaced our income. At the same time, we understand the importance of improving our structures where maintenance had been deferred for years because of the high and competing costs of daily operations. And, of course, at the same time, we are attempting to resurrect our school to teach children and their families the values and virtues that we hold so dear.

The most commonly presented reason that Catholic families say that they don’t send their children to a parish school is that they can’t afford it. But because the faith is built upon the concept of tithing, that is a nonsensical reason—the education is paid by the family’s tithe. Though they may not be able to tithe the current annual cost of educating a child (about $6,000), others also tithe. Catholics tend to “pay it backward,” i.e., they couldn’t afford the cost of educating their children at the time they were young parents with student-offspring but others helped out by giving their tithe. Later, however, after their children graduated college, they continue to tithe so that younger families can have what they had. If you tithe—you in the plural form—we can afford it.

With the challenges of our world today, I think we can’t not afford it. What our Catholic schools do is provide a strong moral anchor that is counter-cultural to our society as it gets pressured to tolerate bad behaviors and harmful attitudes. We can offer this anchor because of the person of Jesus Christ, who is the first teacher for our students. The anchor that He gives us helps to shape children and their families according to a code of ethics that impacts their attitudes, thoughts, feelings, actions, and habits. This same moral code is shared by the community that is also rooted in these divine teachings. I think that we are just counter-cultural enough for this strong root system to help our kids grow in ways that allow them to think critically when facing difficult dilemmas so that they don’t get swayed by the strong storms of societal pressures blowing every direction. Though many children in other schools have this, too, because of their wonderful families, Catholic schools have the advantage of bringing Christ and the saints—the greatest examples of choosing well in difficult situations—into lessons every day.

We can afford it. I think we have to.

Fr. Don Farnan is the Pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Kansas City, Missouri. This entry of “Pastor’s Pen” was first published in the parish bulletin dated July 9, 2017.