There is an interesting, albeit at times concerning, article over at Marketwatch.com that reports the simple fact that being a member of a believing community “costs” you something. And while the article is directed to a Jewish context, its implications reach all of us who believe and belong to the Church.

Underlying the article and those it interviews is a not so subtle premise that it is somehow wrong for faith to “cost” much. Never mind that just about anything in life costs something, involves tradeoffs and that the things we value are often where we chose to spend more. Somehow the implication of the article is that faith should be free, or less demanding financially.

Here are few excerpts from the article by Charles Passay with commentary from me in red and more substantial comments. The full article is here: The Financial Cost of Religious Faith

With the onset of Yom Kippur this evening, Jews will begin a day of fasting, prayer and reflection — all key parts of this holiest of holy days on the religion’s calendar. But this Day of Atonement often comes with another ritual of sorts — namely, a pitch from synagogue leaders for contributions….[It] may strike some as distasteful, but it underscores the reality that faith of any kind — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — often has a literal price. Houses of worship solicit donations in order to pay the bills…..

True enough, there are real costs to maintaining buildings and staffs related to houses of worship. But why should it be any more “distasteful” that a house of worship has costs and bills than say, a public school, a local recreation facility or city stadium, such that we are taxed to pay for their upkeep? The simple fact is that things we value have costs that need to be covered, churches are no different except that we are not forced to pay for them like the government does with taxes.

Beyond such fees, various religious practices, from adhering to certain dietary laws to avoiding certain types of investments, also have costs associated with them….The Jewish practice of keeping kosher — that is, adhering to a way of eating in which meats have been butchered and prepared a certain way, among other dietary matters — can translate into a 20% increase in a family’s food costs, according to one study….Some of the faithful say the financial burden has become harder to bear, especially in light of the slumping economy of late.

But again, it also costs money to go to a football game (often a LOT of money). And that money could be spent elsewhere too. But for people who value football, it is (apparently) a price they are willing to pay, along the the “privileges” of standing in long lines, sitting out in the cold rain on some game days, and paying 15 dollars for a tiny beer and hotdog. But people line up for it.

It’s about what people value. If I value my faith I accept that there are going to be some costs and inconveniences associated with it. If I want to keep my beautiful church open and in good repair, I accept that I will be asked to contribute to that, and will not have that money to spend on a movie or something else. If I want to be a true Christian, I am going to be generous to the poor and needy, and that means I can’t spend my money of some other things.

But If I love God, I value what he values and I want to do it. It’s called tradeoffs, and most people make them everyday for things they value. For Jewish people Kosher is important, and like anything important, it has some costs and tradeoffs associated with it. Welcome to life, filled with tradeoffs and with the need to decide what you value most. You can’t have it all, and almost none of it is free.

“I wish it wasn’t so expensive,” says Judy Safern, a Jewish resident of Dallas who runs a strategic consulting firm. In the past couple of years, Safern has cut back on what might be dubbed her “religion budget,” pulling her two children out of a Jewish day school in favor of a public one (a savings of $16,000) and foregoing membership to her local synagogue (a savings of $1,800). Safern’s hope is that she can maintain her faith without emptying her pocketbook. “I refuse to continue to be squeezed,” she adds.

While it is true that all of us might “wish” that things weren’t expensive, insisting on such wishes is not really a sign of maturity. A football fan might wish that the tickets in the nosebleed section behind the pillar weren’t $450 a piece, but (mysteriously) that is what the market will bear and he has to decide to pay it or not, whatever he wishes were not the case.

It is a worthy consideration, as Ms. Safern implies, to ponder if every expense is necessary. But at the end of the day faith does have costs in time, treasure, and tradeoffs. Does she value her faith so as to bear this cost…or not? From her remarks it seems doubtful that she values her faith much, since the “cost” is not worth it.

Regardless of the religion, Safern is far from alone in expressing such sentiments….A 2012 study by the Barna Group, a market research firm, found that 33% of Protestants and 41% of Catholics had reduced their contributions to churches or religious centers because of the economy….. Actually, Barna Group Vice President Clint Jenkin says it may be more than just the economy at play. He argues that a new generation of the faithful sees religion in an entirely different — and decidedly isolationist — way. “Faith is becoming much more something you do privately rather than something at an institution,” he says.

Exactly. Money and other resources are ultimately about what we value and what we do not value. The complaint about cost is not really all that much about money, it is about faith, it is about what we value. Many have devalued faith and decided that it isn’t “worth” much.

And, as the article suggests,  one can try and reinvent the faith into a “private” matter. But at the end of the day it is clear that the driving force behind most theological syncretism and designer religion is not deep faith at all. It is about making faith less demanding, less costly, more convenient, more about “me” and what pleases me.

A few concluding thoughts. At one level, faith need not cost much at all. We could just meet in a local park on Sundays, expect that clergy be volunteer, and that very few implements such as books, bread and wine, candles, etc be used. But of course such an attitude seems foreign to people who value their faith more than that.

Traditionally it has been the instinct of the faithful to honor their belief with substantial buildings, and dignified implements. Further, since the faith is something weighty, the faithful do not simply depend on rookies or volunteer clergy for the most central matters of teaching the faith and leading the faithful in worship and governance. Rather, given the respect due to Holy Faith, clergy are expected by the faithful to be well trained. (I spent five years of post graduate and attained to two Master’s Degrees, then spent almost ten years in the internship of being a vicar rather than a pastor). This is par for the course and, yes, its costs money. But this is the instinct of the faithful.

So, faith, just like everything else we value does cost. And while there are legitimate discussions to be had about whether every cost is necessary, at the end of the day it is going to cost. If you want to find out what people value, find out what they spend their money and time on. In our increasingly secular and faithless world, many (including some believers) lament what faith “costs” even as we spend exorbitantly on many other things.

As I write this, it is a Sunday afternoon and quite literally billions of dollars and millions of hours have been spent today in an obsession known as “football,” a game having to do with the movement of  a bag full of air on a field. Some fans (short for fanatic) spend as much as four to eight hours glued to the screen, or in loud uncomfortable stadiums. Hundreds of dollars are spent on tickets or parties. And yet many of these same people scoff at the “cost” of a Mass that lasts more than an hour, and would, if they went at all, consider themselves generous contributors if they put five or ten dollars in the basket.

Yes, Sunday is a day of great contrast.

What should faith cost? It is clear that the answer to this is for us to decide.

In the end however, the “lament” of the cost of faith reported in the article above is not about the money. It is about faith and what we really value. Everything “costs” it’s just what you decide to spend your money on that reveals what you most value. Do you value the faith? You decide, and you show it by what you are willing to pay. Where a person’s money and time is, there is their heart.

Video: the immigrants to this country were poor. But they combined nickels and dimes to build beautiful churches. Why? I suspect because they valued their faith and thought the cost to be worth it. Here are a couple of videos I put together of their gifts to us:

33 Responses

  1. Disclaimer: I do not dislike football and thing that sports have a lot to teach us about life. But it remains a remarkable contrast at what we are willing to spend on things like football and what we consider burdensome in terms of faith.

  2. Jim says:

    You forgot to mention our need and duty to offer God only our very best, Msgr. Pope!

  3. Jennifer says:

    Very true! People cry poor and drive around in expensive cars, mostly purchased on credit, but still have enough money for frivolities like expensive clothes, hair extensions and acrylic nails.
    My kids and I buy an extra bag of food at each trip to McDonald’s so we can share with the homeless. And we also give out dollar bills to the homeless. We are really trying, as a family, to be more like St. Francis.
    And there are other costs to being a disciple of Christ. My business dealings are restricted, because I don’t bend the rules. But it’s better this way. There is true peace in forgoing the love of money and all the expensive junk that money can buy. :)

  4. Hunter says:

    We are obligated to do the best we can. The sacraments and liturgy of the church are free. Should we offer money if we can when we ask for a Mass(es) to be said for an intention? Should we put money in the donation box when we light a votive candle? Yes. However a priest or other member of the church or clergy will not ask for it. They may suggest it but not demand for it. Something interesting that I commonly notice is that the people who have the least give the most. At a large parish that I occasionally go to, oftentimes there will be multiple homeless people at the Mass. I don’t think I have ever seen one of them NOT give during the offertory. They value their faith. Their material possessions are few and far between. They have little money to spare. Nonetheless they recognize they do have one thing. Faith, and they give more proportionally then most people I know. Oftentimes we forget how much we receive from our faith and church. A person will always have something to give. If there isn’t money then there is time, prayer, fasting, etcetera. My uncle had wanted to be a priest and my grandmother knew that he wanted to go to the seminary for high school. My grandparents were already working between two and three jobs and yet still had no money to spare. They were barely ever home but in the little time my grandmother had to spare she worked out a deal with the seminary to clean the dormitories and offices. I greatly look up to my grandmother for doing this and remind myself of their tireless efforts to pay for my uncle’s tuition and they still made time for daily Mass, weekly confession, and a multitude of other devotions. How could we expect to receive anything without giving?

  5. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    If only the national football league commission would allow theCatholic Church to purchase a football team? perhapse the New Orleans Saints.

  6. edraCruz says:

    Our Parish is still to have a Sanctuary, a Church building where we can worship and celebrate The HOLY MASS. An anonymous giver will give 50thou for the building on the condition that the parish members match the amount. I am a poor man with lots of responsibilities and debts, but I will give 2thou. This amount will come from the total disability pay I received when I got operated. Shall I count the cost of this? No way, because GOD granted me my second life for now I am cancer free. There is no value in dollars on what we value. Praise to YOU, YHWH ROPHE, YHWH YIREH!!!

  7. Denis says:

    If there was no God, there would be no football (or anything else for that matter). People need prioritize their lives more towards God.

  8. Mark O'Neil says:

    The reason people do not value faith is because they do not really know the true King. If they really knew the true King they would have Him on the highest throne and know He is worthy of their worship and praise. They would give Him the glory due to Him. They would also congregate to worship Him corporately. They do not really know the authentic majesty and glory of the King. Finally in our church, we are studying theology proper and the people’s eyes are being opened and beginning to worship the King, but the effort to teach theology proper and apply it needs to continue without ceasing.

  9. Vijaya says:

    No priest has ever demanded money … but the desire to give is natural result of thankfulness. For having a house for God, for the faithful priests, for all the work they do. I think of growing up poor and how my mother still gave (it was always a sacrifice).

  10. Cynthia BC says:

    “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”

  11. Cynthia BC says:

    PS Msgr, where were you that you bought a beer AND a hot dog for only $15?

  12. RichardGTC says:

    To me, from a Catholic point of view, it is simple: If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then giving makes sense. If you don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then giving is nonsense.

  13. Sally says:

    What is happening all around us is a trading off of responsibility, not just values. The Catholic Church gave the Government the responsibility of enforcing mandatory health care for everyone and soon the catholic hospitals will become government hospitals. The values of our Life will be dictated by what the government wants and that is why more people are not giving to the Church. It is not seen as important to a normal way of life and “normal” has a new meaning. Television and my bigger better stuff is more satisfying than faith. Our life is constantly distracted by the meaningless things of this world and the government and social media want people numbed so we are confused as to what is truly right. Immoral behavior is taking more of our time and money. And now the Church is taking sides on immigration, not to make things better or morally right but to force illegal behavior as normal and as if it were my fault that people are here illegally. More money is lost to illegal guilt. Why should I give money that I work hard to earn and save for my retirement when the Church just gave power to the Government to take from me. And for what? How is the Catholic Church a winner on this? You are now fighting against contraception and how sex education should be taught, let alone what marriage is. Things are not good until we start looking at ourselves and our choices more carefully. We live in a meaningless world of pretend feelings and by things that I think I want, then I’ll “happy”.

    • Don says:

      Turning charity over to government has been a disaster for Christian churches in the West. Those in need look to the government for help and are thankfult to the government when they receive it. They used to look to the Church, and were thankful to the Church. Also, people are give less to the Church because of the tax burden they are under to support government welfare & entitlement programs. The Church tried to deal with this by contracting to administer / disburse federal funds (thereby staying involved in the works of mercy) but now the government (which controls the money) is demanding that the Church either abandon its beliefs or get out. In my opinion, this shift to government funded and administered charity has done more damage to the Church in the United States than any other single development.

  14. edraCruz says:

    ‘…soon the catholic hospitals will become government hospitals.’ Huh?! ‘Television and my bigger better stuff is more satisfying than faith.’ Huh?! ‘Why should I give money that I work hard to earn and save for my retirement when the Church just gave power to the Government to take from me.’ Huh?! ‘You are now fighting against contraception and how sex education should be taught, let alone what marriage is. Things are not good until we start looking at ourselves and our choices more carefully. We live in a meaningless world of pretend feelings and by things that I think I want, then I’ll “happy”.’ Huh?! Are you from Earth? Where did you get these information and ideas? Keep your money and yes, save it for your retirement to your heart content until you find yourself empty inside out. You put your faith away and choose television? So bland, no complexity, very superficial. Go be happy and enjoy yourself while it lasts and we pray when you become dry and without direction and find life meaningless you will find The Way, The Truth and The Life and HIS Name is JESUS!!! May GOD Bless and keep you in spite of your spite and selfishness. GOD Loves you still. Hehehe. YHWH RACHAM!

    • K. Louise says:

      Sally, would you please comment. IMHO I believe Sally is referring to the endorsement of the Affordable Care Act by certain Church officials. The HHS mandate may take Church money to pay for immoral procedures and artificial contraception. Alternatively, government fines could put Catholic hospitals out of business. Perhaps a typo prevented Sally from saying, “You are not fighting against contraception, etc. Sally appears to be objecting to the new normal way of life she describes, not endorsing it.

      • Sally says:

        Thank you K. Louise and Don,
        You are both better at writing about the role of the Government over our lives than I can. Life was cheaper and a bit more simple when I was growing up and when someone did something wrong they were held responsible. Now everything costing more, even for little things like gas. It was .50 cents a gallon and I had ’67 LeMans that cost maybe $500. When you needed to see a doctor you paid for their serve out of pocket. There wasn’t insurance for most working class and if it was too expensive the churches and the community was there to help. I am sorry to edraCruz for my rabbling and odd way of writing and thinking. I am worried for the Church as I feel the Government wants to control the Church like China controls her people. The patterns of behavior of some in the government are scary and these people are catholic; especially the one in san fran. If you read the History of people in countries where the Catholic Church was attacked, you will see a loss of human love for each other and a culture of death to satisfy the revenge mobs. Think of France and the revolution, it killed and butchered innocent people daily all for the common good. Things are not good and I pray daily for God guidance, especially in Israel and the Middle East where the Church is being persecuted right now.

    • Sally says:

      Dear edraCruz,
      Thank you for your insight and kindness in spite of what you think you know. No, I don’t have television, I homeschooled because the great government school was more concern with sex and drug education. I live as simple of a life that I can so I can find a quite time to pray. My life is not happy, I find my joy in God somewhere in the craziness of this world. The last time I look it was our taxes that we pay, if you work that goes to the government and the government gives welfare money to illegals to the tune of Billions. So that makes me some nut job because I don’t like it or think it right. This country is broke and according to Biden all we have to do is spend our way out of debt. More people are out of work and are have lost their homes, why should you care? As long as the money goes to people who are here for the free ride and the church is a sanctuary for them. Obomacare is coming (the Bishops of America help push it through) with all its great compassion and the IRS will be the new enforcer to make sure that you will pay. Please go look it up. Remember when Obama’s grandmother died in Hawaii, for a hip replacement? He said that she really didn’t need it and I don’t remember Obama being that sad about her death. I’m sure he will be more caring to your ills and problems. My life means nothing to you and it means nothing to this government or the Catholic Church. The Church that I go to cares only for money to pay off its mortgage. It is a happy-clappy mass with girls in short, men in T-shirts and blue genes and after mass you can buy a raffle ticket to win $25,000. The only reason I go is to find Christ in the Eucharist. Maybe you are more responsible and live in nice community of caring people, but I don’t. I’m just trying to put things together the best I can, so please save your fake Jesus love for someone else, I’m not worth it.

      • K. Louise says:

        Sally,
        My husband recommends two books:

        1) Why Must I Suffer? by Fr. Francis J. Remler, O.M., Loreto Publications (Don’t let the title scare you. It will help with any suffering.)
        2) Sadness of Christ by St. Thomas More, Scepter Publications

        God bless you and your beautiful love for the Eucharist. Your life has infinite worth to the God who thirsts for you.

        • edraCruz says:

          I am sorry if I struck a sour note. You don’t seem to know the stance of the Church or the Bishops about Obamacare. Go search some more. As for fake JESUS Love for you, it is not, because I pray for you out of love. Again, GOD Bless you, Sally and your family. The Church prays for you and me because She cares for us. May you find CHRIST in the HOLY EUCHARIST!!! Yes, your life means a lot to me as I offer my pains and sufferings for you to find HIM in the Church that you may become one of the witnesses for GOD.

  15. Don says:

    Speaking of what it “costs” to be a Christian, here is something with which I struggle. I paid $80K in federal taxes last year, not including SS and Medicare tax. Add in all other taxes (property, sales, SS / Medicare and I am well over $120K in taxes. About a third of that goes to entitlements, one quarter to pay government debt, and the balance to “everything else” the federal government does. So, you could say I paid $30,000+ in tax to care for the poor through entitlement programs. You would think that I should have a ton of money left over – and I do. But, I have a house payment, I am paying for 2 kids to attend Catholic high school (at a scandalous cost of $17K apiece), I have a student in college ($30K), I save for retirement so I won’t have to rely on charity when I am old ($30K) and I pay for my mother-in-law’s care. Then there’s food, utilities, insurance, car payments, etc., etc. It is easy to rationalize and say “I have already done my share by paying my taxes; I don’t have any further obligation to the poor.”

    Also, because government has “taken over” the traditional charitable role of the Church, Christians get no credit for this massive outpouring of charity. Instead, the government gets the credit. When the beneficiaries of this charity look for who to thank, who to reward, who to be grateful to, it is the government not God, not Christians, not the Church. People give less to the Church because they have the “excuse” that they have already given a lot to the “poor” in the form of taxes. I believe this has hardened the hearts of many Christians and caused great damage to the Church and it’s mission – both among the poor and the not-so-poor.

    • Don says:

      Replying to my own post! I suppose the question is, if the government did not “force” me to contribute $30,000 to the poor this year, would I voluntarily add that same $30,000 to my current annual contribution to the Church, to be distributed to the poor? I hate to admit it, but I doubt I would be quite that generous. So there is the dilemma: the poor probably get more under government compusion than they would through my voluntary giving to the Church. Also, how would I justify giving to the “poor” in America when 2.5 billion people in the world live in the kind of abject poverty that hardly exists in the United States – e.g., no running water, sewer, or electricity and living on under $2 per day?

      • JuliB says:

        But the poor do not get that 30K. The amount of overhead in gov’t is enormous (esp when more than one level of gov’t is involved). Some of it is warranted, but much of it is wasted, so I think you could accomplish much more with a donation of less than 30K.

  16. Bill Foley says:

    Just a useless piece of silly info: I heard on the radio yesterday that parking for a Dallas Cowboys’ game is the most expensive in the NFL–$75.00!

  17. Samantha says:

    Hello, I stumbled across your blog looking for an article about raising boys and this caught my eye.

    While I agree that members should pay to maintain the cost of the church, the clergy’s pay, etc. I think the Catholic church spends way too much money on a bunch of stuff that’s unnecessary. Why are there hundreds of dollars worth of flower arrangements, etc.? I like going to church (I’m not Catholic, but my husband’s family is) but honestly one of the reasons I don’t go all the time is because they make me feel guilty I don’t contribute a whole bunch of money for their upkeeping, and I hardly have any extra money. You’re right — do I want to pay for my kids to do soccer or put that into the Church? Well, the Church doesn’t always win. I do regularly donate lots of food for the food drives and give to charities besides the Church.

    I think that people think of the Catholic Church, Episcopalian Church (that’s me) as big institutions with lots of chains and ties to national organizations that already give them money. Whether or not that’s true, it seems like that’s the instinctive feeling. If one church has poor members, it will be fed by a larger, richer church if the clergy needs their salary paid.

    • Samantha says:

      That being said — It could be 100% wrong. I am just sharing that is my general attitude. I put a decent amount of money in the collection pot every week. Do I promise 10% of my check? No. Do I value church? Yes. I’m not trying to make a debate, just what I and others probably think. Hearing the Gospel should be free. Everything else is a bonus.

Leave a Reply