Why does a parish need money? Perhaps the parish needs a new building, or must hire new staff members. Why might the parish need a new building or staff members? The parish may require a new Education Center, or need a talented new Music Director to further the mission of the parish. But what is the mission of the parish?
The parish mission is to locally perform the mission of the Church, which is to bring people into a living relationship with God and each other, through Jesus Christ. The parish staff, buildings, programs and money must all ultimately work toward this goal.
Various aspects of parish life may seem more directly connected to this mission than others. Sunday morning Mass obviously brings people into communion with each other and with God, as do many other parish ministries. But what might be regarded as the “ordinary” aspects — such as the Thursday night finance committee meeting, the new office computer system or new landscaping on church grounds — are also essential to the parish mission. We may think of these tasks merely as administrative, and having no connection to the spiritual elements of Catholicism.
However, this line of thought is thoroughly non-Catholic. Catholicism does not separate the temporal from the spiritual. It is no more unseemly to speak of money at Mass than it is to use water to baptize — or, for that matter, to speak of Christ as both human and divine. The Catholic worldview demonstrates that ordinary things are always conjoined with unseen realities. This is exactly how the Sacraments of the Catholic Church work — the bodily conveying spiritual grace.
Indeed, a sagging parish budget or peeling paint in the church building aren’t simply administrative issues unrelated to the parish’s spiritual mission. The two may be distinguished, but they should never be divorced. The entire operation of the parish is of one piece — everything sacred and ordinary should be incorporated into a singular mission.
Of course, the same is true for our personal lives. An authentic Christian doesn’t compartmentalize his or her life into “time for God” and “time for me,” or even “God’s money” and “my money.” Instead, a Christian is always conscious that everything is under the umbrella of God’s providence. A Christian understands that he or she fits into an ultimate plan that transcends the workaday world, yet also includes it.
As strange as it may seem, things like time and money — and parish budgets, candles and missalettes — are rungs on the ladder to heaven. St. Thomas Aquinas disagreed with philosophers who thought that material things, and even our own bodies, were shackles on the soul. He instead believed that we are extremely fortunate to exist as embodied creatures, being able to see God in physical things like mountains, smiling faces and, of course, bread and wine.
Catholics reject any notion of spirituality that excludes the material world. Instead, we believe that the same principle behind the Seven Sacraments — that God works through ordinary things — is applicable to our whole lives. So being conscious of how we spend our money and our time is, indeed, very Catholic.