Telling the Truth by Time and Money

It has been said that if we want to discover what we really value most we need to look honestly at what we spend our time and money on. Most Christians, if asked what they value most will answer, “God.”  But that is the expected answer. The truest answer can be found by looking at our calendars and spending habits.

Disclaimer – The text that follows makes use of the collective “we.” The use of this collective pronoun is not to be interpreted as the “absolute” as in “Every single one of us does this without exception.” Rather the collective “we” bespeaks a general human tendency that will, in fact vary from person to person. Hence not all of what you read may apply to you. Nothing should be taken personally. There is a saying, “If the shoe fits wear it. Otherwise, let it pass over you.” With this disclaimer in mind let’s look at how “we” make use of money and time and what this might saying about what we truly values and what our priorities truly are.

If we look to our spending habits we discover that, at least in the modern American setting, our greatest love is creature comforts and entertainment. Even the necessities we purchase like food, clothing and shelter are riddled with comfort.  For example we buy a lot of food that soothes and merely appeals to taste but is otherwise junk. We buy homes that do far more than shelter us, but feature vast entertainment areas, widescreen TVs, large open kitchens, great rooms, cathedral ceilings, pools and patios. Our clothes too must come in every variety, matching shoes and ensembles. Even our cars have plush and adjustable seats, and have entertainment centers installed to include: fine Bose sound, mp3 players, Satellite radio, even flat screen TVs that play movies. All of this adds a hefty price tag to our increasingly high and comfortable standard of living,  and we pay it!  It goes a long way to show how highly we value comfort and entertainment.

But as for God, he too easily gets the financial leftovers. We may spend hundreds of dollars at a fine restaurant, 20 to 30 dollars going to the movies, hundreds more to go to a cold wet stadium and watch football and eat over-priced hotdogs. We will plop down large amounts for video games and Wii accessories, and yet feel like a hero if we drop $10 in the collection plate instead of our usual $5. Never mind that Scripture says that God is to get the first 10% of our income (e.g. Malachi 3:8-12), the fact is, he usually gets the leftovers. After the mortgage, car note, cable bill, magazine subscription and credit card bill are paid, after all the impulse spending, we figure out what, if anything is left and from that give to God. But truth be told He doesn’t get paid upfront like the like Mr. Walmart, God gets the leftovers.

For things we really like, money is no object, Charge it! But giving to the Archbishop’s Lenten Appeal, or increasing our offertory to afford the new parish education building is considered an odious imposition and our soul cries out, “Not again?!” Catholic School education has surely gone up in price and that is a factor in the dropping enrollment but many Catholic families still manage to afford some pretty nice stuff.

The fact is we just don’t value God and the things of God like we value comfort and entertainment. It may be a hard truth but it’s right there in our spending habits, plain as day. At the end of the day our priorities are pretty plain.

And as for our time – here too the overall portrait is pretty bleak. The vast majority of Catholics give NO time to God at all.  3/4 s don’t even go to Mass. Quite certainly they don’t pray either on any regular basis, if at all. As for the 20-25% who do go to Mass God gets 45 – 60 minutes a week. But beyond that, how much does the average Catholic pray each day? How much time do they spend with Scripture or the study of their faith. To be fair, many Catholics do attend bible studies, adult ed and/or other Church activities, but many do none of this.

Time for everything else – Now, of course, everyone is busy in these stress filled times. But we find time for everything else. We find time to sleep and eat, time to watch our favorite shows. We find time for vacations and other diversions. Many people can spend hours shopping, watching sports games, movies and the like. But when it comes to prayer, study of the faith, teaching the faith to children, reading Scripture, or helping the poor…., well, you know, “I’m just so busy.”

At the football game everyone is excited when it goes into overtime. But if Mass runs long, there is irritation. Football is about a bag full of air being pitched around a field. But Mass is about eternal verities and soul-saving grace. But never mind, five hours on football is reasonable, but a Mass longer than 45 minutes is unreasonable.

The truth, as told by time,  is that many value leisure and worldly activities far more than God or the faith. We may wish to doubt this but it is written right into our calendars and the balance isn’t even close. For most people God gets nothing of their time, for some he gets an hour a week, only a very small percentage give more.

Disclaimer 2 – It is a true fact that we cannot spend all day in a chapel or give all our money to God. Most people have significant and serious obligations they must meet financially and temporally toward others. Meeting obligations IS part of our holiness. Yet most of us do have disposable income and leisure time. It is how we make use of these resources that we must most look to discover how highly God really ranks in our world.

Telling the truth by time and money remains very instructive for us. Very instructive indeed.

37 Replies to “Telling the Truth by Time and Money”

  1. If we look to our spending habits we discover that, at least in the modern American setting, our greatest love is . . .

    Government has its grubby dirty hands in everything. Many, if not most, ultimately end up spending more than half of their income on government, what with multiple levels of taxation, various fees, assessments, and other costs.

      1. Yes, government does get a lot of our money. Any particular government is the embodied reality that man is a social creature and that men must live in ordered society with other men.

        Government = public safety (I’m for it), public education (I’m against much of it; but not enough to convince a majority of my fellow citizens to support change), public social safety net (I’m against much of it; but not enough to convince a majority of my fellow citizens to support change), safety within our borders (I’m for it), “making the world safe for democracy” (I’m against much of it; but not enough to convince a majority of my fellow citizens to support change).

        If we look to our spending habits we discover that, at least in the modern American setting, our greatest love is . . . all the things we’d need for ordered liberty, anyway.

        Does government spending lapse into the same creature comfort and entertainment (and radical inefficiency) that affects rest of spending/budgeting?
        Sure, and even to a greater wasteful degree.

        Does this fact excuse, in any way, our failure to direct whatever excess monies we have left over toward God and the things of God?
        Um, no.

  2. Very well said, Msgr!

    However, too often Mass goes overtime because the priest is ad-libbing the ritual and “improving” it for us in the pew. Also, I don’t mind a long sermon if there is a point to it, something more than I can get by reading the NewAdvent website or the local editorial pages.

    These days, I just bring a spiritual book for during the homily.

      1. hmm I think I’ll bring a book when it comes time for the annual Fill Out the Form Homily for the now-Cardinal’s Appeal, which usually is around this time of year. Usually we skip Mass that weekend, but sometimes we miss the announcement.

        I LOATHE the fill-out-the-form homily. I don’t mind hearing that we should be charitable, and about where the funds are directed, but it’s an insult to anyone who can read English at a fifth-grade reading level to have to sit through:

        “Where it says ‘name’…write your name…”

    1. If you’re really ignoring him during the homily, I would suggest that, rather than reading a book (a possible distraction for other parishioners), praying for him would be a better way to spend your time, as well as being more respectful to his office. On those weeks when he says something that speaks to you, you can then tell him – even priests need encouragement sometimes.

      Having belonged to parishes where the preaching really wasn’t up to much, I can sympathise, but if you really want a better preacher, pray for the one that you’ve got,

      1. thanks!

        I’ve been attending Mass virtually every day for 22 years now in many areas of the USA and have heard quite a few sermons and styles of the Roman Ritual. Although I forget details, I imagine in all that time that I only heard maybe a couple hundred sermons which “spoke to me” or whatever the lingo. I appreciate the “glass is always full” hopeful attitude for better sermons, but I have a very strong suspicion that not much effort is put into creating the day’s homily, so it falls/fails substantially and necessarily.

        If others are distracted by my reading, perhaps they should focus more on their own prayer, and less on what others are doing.

        Our priests will not improve until we insist they raise the standards, as they should insist in us!

    2. You don’t think it slightly arrogant and destructive to assume that you have nothing to learn and no way to grow from even the poorest of homilies?

    3. I like what the late Michael Dubruiel said in his book The How-To Book of the Mass. “No matter how poor the presentation… if we expect to hear a ‘word’ from God, we will — and we will hear a great homily at every Mass.”

    4. At least your activity is quiet … At Mass this morning, not only did a man’s cell phone ring, he ANSWERED it, and had a conversation … during the homily …

  3. A great reminder to us all again, Father, to re-evaluate how we spend our time and money. I’ve been doing some thinking and praying about this given the struggles we have been facing in our family and the blessings we have received and I’ve come to realize that when we obey God (in love because you do fall deeper and deeper and deeper in love the more you get to know Him, just like when you marry and you think you can’t love any more but 15 years later, you are even moreso in love), the blessings flow …

    Once you turn towards God, you keep on turning, turning because the pull is irresistible. Perhaps we don’t give as much as we should in the beginning, but the conversion is ongoing, and we begin to change our lives. It is so easy to slip back into our old habits (I know all too well) so your admonishment is timely.

    ps: I’ve made two posts related to this: about regrets and following your calling ( I mentioned Fulton Sheen’s book and I’m delighted that someone is going to read it for their book club. I pray their hearts may be changed.

  4. You cannot serve God and mammon. You either gotta accept God as your master or accept possessions – family, home, friends, wealth, objects, pleasure – as your master. And there is but one Master in Heaven.

  5. Thank you for the reflection Msgr Pope

    We are not rich certainly but the last two years i felt convicted to pay tithe and i did every month even borrowing some months till a family obligation cut short that contribution – i was paying tithe and borrowing gas money , food money etc so maybe in the future 🙂

    Still i found many good things in this reflection – very many good things

    1. I am having a little trouble following this. However, it looks like you are saying that the tithe caused you to have a shortfall. In the end, God promises in the Malachi text cited that will open up the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing. Hence the gift to be sought in tithing and which is most often expereinced by those who do is greater stability in one’s finances. Some expereince this by increased income, others, like me, expereince it by a greater capacity to control expenses. At any these are the graces to be sought.

  6. Dear Father,
    I am honestly wondering – does spending 12% of your income on Catholic Education count? We also give another 1-2% to charity. The rest is budgeted out, with modest camping vacations and kids activities. We are blessed to be able to do this. (with half dozen kids…)

    Sometimes I think we can always give more, as long as we are living the life we live. I seriously have a little trouble discerning what is enough. Is it ever enough as we live our American lives? (What we give, I mean)

    1. As for Catholic Education, this is surely a laudable use of money in that it really helps immerse your children in the life of the Church and their faith (if, as a I hope it is a good Catholic school). The ususal, biblical norm is to give 10% to the Lord via the Sunday collection. Of itself Catholic Education would not generally count toward this since a service is received in kind. Now this post is not on the tithe per se, but just asks the question, how do we spend our money overall and where is God in that? In terms of THAT your 14% is way above average. Perhaps in the future I shall write a post on the biblical teaching on tithing. Yes, we can always give more in some abstract sense but let the Lord lead you in what is wise. The other question this post raises of course is the question of time devoted to God. And that is also something over which we should pray.

  7. I confess to my brothers and sisters that I have spent way too much time and money playing slot machines in the past 15 plus years. Now I have confessed this many times and this addiction really baffled me until I recently read the information and articles on that explains how our brain works while playing these machines. Thank you, Lord, for the many ways in which you work.

  8. One consideration here is that many Catholics (myself included) don’t trust the Church as a custodian of our resources.

    I never give to any Catholic appeal higher than my parish’s repairs fund (which doesn’t get kicked upstairs to the chancery). I don’t give to the regular collection because 8 percent goes upstairs. I don’t give to anything at the diocese, because I don’t trust the bishops to be orthodox or politically prudent. I certainly don’t give to second collections, since most of those are just community activist, CCHD-esque claptrap with no accountability or transparency.

    It took my reaching out to my pastor to find out about giving to the repairs fund. I can see directly where my money is going (new windows, etc.), and know for a fact it isn’t being wasted. What will less motivated yet equally-frustrated Catholics do? You guessed it–not give.

    If the larger Church wants more money, they need to be better stewards of it.

    1. Interesting how this conversation (not just your comment) is spinning downward to this sort of stuff and missing the point of the self examination that is intended. The question for you and me is how does our spending (overall – not just the collection plate) reflect our claim that God is our priority and how does it not. It is also interesting that everyone so far has spoken about money and almost nothing has been said about time.

      1. With the exception of working and caring for my family, I probably spend more time on various church activities than on anything else – 6 – 8 hrs/week

        service/Mass: 1-2 hrs week (every other weekend both Mass and Lutheran service)
        c’s bell rehearsal: 1 hr/week
        my bell rehearsal: 1.5 hrs/week
        c’s choir rehearsal: 1 hr/week
        my choir rehearsal: 1.5 hrs/week
        Adoration: 1 hr/week

        and on top of that, there’s PTA, Girl Scouts, and civic association. I SO look forward to the summer, when all I have is c’s swim team.

  9. Msgr. Pope, may I print copies of this article to distribute to the members of my Small Church Community? This is a beautiful presentation on stewardship, and there is a lot of truth in your reflection. Unless it is pointed out to us, we will not really be aware of our values, and how we spend our talent, time and money. Thank you so much.

  10. Our expectations are so low. You encourage us, rightly, to find time for God — to fit prayer, spiritual reading, and Mass into our schedules. Certainly it is vital that we devote time to prayer and spiritual things every day, as much (not as little) as our vocations dictate and allow.

    Really, though, shouldn’t we be looking at this differently?

    After all, for Christians is not a matter of fitting God into our lives but rather living solely for His glory. We should give ourselves entirely to Him, a meager offering to the God who gave Himself entirely for us. Our jobs and families, our rest and recreation, and everything from our commutes to those moments as we fall asleep, they should all be His.

    It’s a tall order, but Christ came “not to bring peace but the sword.” We need to take Christ’s sword to our lives and our lifestyles, even every day (or more), in order to come to His profound peace.

    1. There is a lovely little book I came across by Kathleen Norris called The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work and everything we do should be for God’s glory. I find myself doing things I do more prayerfully and many of the big epiphanies don’t necessarily occur in Church, but in the quietness … or when I’m doing dishes, laundry or writing.

  11. Thank you, again, Msgr. Pope, for another thoughtful article. I find that I can be gluttonous with how I spend my time as much as how I dissipate an appetite, and as selfish with my time as with my financial power. Thank you for pointing out how all we have is ON LOAN from God and is meant for us to use IN HIS SERVICE, one way or another.

  12. /* Meeting obligations IS part of our holiness. Yet most of us do have disposable income and leisure time. It is how we make use of these resources that we must most look to discover how highly God really ranks in our world. */

    Thanks for clarifying.

  13. An early meditation familiar to those who have experienced Cursillo is:
    What do you spend money on? And How do you spend your time?
    Among the men on that Cursillo, a much discretionary time was spend watching televised sports. This discovery does cause changes in behaviour: Do we really want to defend to the Lord at the point of Judgment the hundreds or thousands of hours spent as lumps in front of the TV? (As opposed to prayer, bible study, or carrying out corporal or spiritual works of mercy.)
    Consider Matt: 25:31-46; Or Luke 16:19-31. We will be held accountable for what we fail to do, even if, like the rich man in Luke’s parable, we may not have SEEN the poor man at our gate. We may have regarded him as part of the scenery. Something to be aware of.

  14. I belong to a parish where 67-71 % give NOTHING!! every week!!! While we live in a rural area and there
    is considerable poverty it would seem a dollar/week would be within reach of most…interestingly the average
    contribution/week is between 26 dollars and 31 dollars for individuals and a little over 10 dollars per family.
    There is no accounting ever given for the monies collected…once in awhile, every few years a pie chart is
    hung in the back of the church on a bulletin board ( which is placed over an un-used confessional) listing
    the major areas of expense which if you bring a flash/light and a magnifying glass to Church you can read
    at your leisure…never a huge crowd to fight off! If you want a report for tax purposes you have to call the
    all ready over-burdened secretary to make one out for you. It would seem a little over-haul is needed but
    the finance committee seems happy with the way things are. We never quite make in the weekly collection
    enough to cover the expenses ( that IS listed in the bulletin) but so far the Pastor never mentions money
    except for the Annual Bishops appeal..which always goes over our assessment by about 25-30 %. So I
    would quess everyone is happy! Does sending contributions into other deserving charities, and to EWTN
    count in the tithe? Just wondering…as we probably receive no less than a dozen requests for money in
    one week’s mail…also the local food bank? In other words, does it all have to go in the collection plate to
    count as a tithe? Over-all it would seem we are doing very well in this country as far as blessings is concerned and there is no where on this planet a more charitable nation. Still in spite of this we have way too many people starving in this world..literally not believe we could be doing much better! As far as those who are
    trying to pass off the burden on the over taxed citizen remember “render unto Caesar the things that are
    Caesar’s ( like we have a choice) and unto God the things that are God’s.” (most think we do have a choice

  15. Dear Msgr.:

    I’ve been mulling over both your post and your replies to comments, particularly your observation:

    “It is also interesting that everyone so far has spoken about money and almost nothing has been said about time.”

    I was wondering if there are any passages in Scripture which indicate how much time we should spend each day focused upon our faith and God. Since Scripture asks us to tithe 10% of our financial income, then I don’t think it is unreasonable for us to also tithe 10% of our temporal income. So, at 24 hours per day, that means that we owe the Lord 2.4 hours per day, which for ease of reference I’ll round up to 2 1/2 hours per day.

    That leaves me to spend the remaining 21.5 hours as I see fit. Assuming I sleep 8 hours, eat 3 hours, and bathe/hygiene 1 hour, I still have 9.5 hours to spend. I usually work an 8 hour day, which means I still have 1.5 hours to spend doing other things, such as exercise (1 hour) and spend time with my children (30 min). Hmm, I’m all out of time and still haven’t even watched any TV or cleaned the house, let alone mowed the lawn, fixed the car or attended one of my kids’ sports activities….

    Clearly there has to be a way of spending time with the Lord that will allow me to multitask, so I can spend that 2.5 hours of faith-oriented time and still get my laundry done. That got me thinking as to whether or not I could figure out ways to “sneak in” God-time while doing other things. That’s how I came up with the 3-hour Catholic plan. Here’s what I’ve come up with thus far:

    (1) upon waking, say my morning prayers and read that day’s readings, contemplating them whilst taking a shower and getting dressed for work. Time spent: 45 minutes.

    (2) while commuting to and from work, listening to the local Catholic radio station (love Catholic Answers Live!). Time spent: 40 minutes (20 min. each way).

    (3) while running on the treadmill, listening to a Catholic podcast or CD. Time spent: 1 hour.

    (4) over the noon hour, saying a rosary before or after eating lunch. Time spent: 15 minutes.

    (5) putting kids to bed: read and discuss a Bible story and say prayers. Time spent: 15 minutes.

    (6) before bed: say a Novena prayer with my wife. Time spent: 5 minutes.

    I was surprised to find that without much effort at all (other than remembering to do it!), I quickly figured out how to spend 3 hours of my day working towards improving my prayer life and increasing my knowledge of my faith without taking any more time out of my daily life nor interrupting things that I already do. That also opened up the extra 2.5 hours for me to do other things!

    Once I got to thinking about it, I realized that you could quite easily add another half hour attending daily Mass over lunch (perhaps even keeping the noon-rosary and skipping lunch altogether for a bit of simple fasting), not too mention add some additional time on reading a good book on theology or Catholic issues or watching a bit of EWTN to unwind. One could relatively quickly get 4 or even 5 hours of faith-based living accomplished each day just by what we choose to do each hour while doing other things and still have a couple of hours left over to do other activities.

    I guess that it just goes to demonstrate that where there’s a will, there’s a way….

    1. Amen. I still don’t know how you can do bedtime (with story and prayer in 15 min with kiddos). Grin. I feel good about the time we devote as a family and personally being involved in Church life, community and reading/praying … but boy, we’re locked into an expensive house (and my husband tells me it’s not a good time to sell — we’ve prayed and prayed about this) and Catholic schooling is expensive. Each is about 30% of our income. But we’re discovering that God provides when you give … I used to be guarded with my time too, but God even makes time for me to write even though I have greater responsibilities now than before.

    2. “I was wondering if there are any passages in Scripture which indicate how much time we should spend each day focused upon our faith and God.”
      As Paul advises in Thessalonians: Pray without ceasing! It would seem that the answer is : 100%. Challenging. And for us fallen humans, seemingly impossible. But a goal to strive for. A good start is a daily reminder to ourselves to dedicate all the good we do to God, and offer all our failings to God for His healing . I like your plan as well.

  16. The more we (my family) give to God in money and our time, the more joy is in my heart, all of our hearts as a family. When you give God “so much” (as it feels initially) in tithe of money, who cares when you help out another that has a particular need as well….you broke yourself of your second, a false god! Wow! The 40 Days For Life campaign where I spent every day praying for 2-4 hours in addition to our regular efforts for Christ, with Christ – I felt like I was on a retreat in a monastary that I hoped would never end – and this was outside a child sacrifice mill with rats scurying around my feet! I was praying for babies and mothers and fathers and our nation and I experienced all of this joy and peace and love for God. And all of that prayer is, years later, still strengthening me as we do more and more for Christ as a family. A third, another false god slain. Your family’s well-being and family time is part of God’s time – just share it! Do it as a family. I overheard at an RCIA retreat that some old lady parishioner can’t see to drive anymore so doesn’t go to Mass anymore and I started thinking….I’ll have to check with my wife and see if we can commit to pick her up and take her to Mass on Sundays…if it’s possible, given our schedule…if God wills it, there will be a way.

    Great article!

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