I recently saw an article about the financial crisis parishes and dioceses are facing because of the pandemic. It’s pretty obvious: if nobody is going to church nobody is putting their money in the collection basket.

Parishes that geared up with online giving are doing better, but the crisis is still real. Furthermore, with massive unemployment, many people who used to have some extra disposable income will fall on hard times.

In the face of the crisis critics have blasted the churches because “all they ever do is demand more and more of our money.”

It’s true. Bishops and pastors do ask for money. It’s also true that religious leaders of all stripes have been corrupt in their financial dealings. Financial corruption and greed robs their religion of credibility and spiritual power.

But stop and think for a moment. Most pastors are not financially corrupt and they ask for money to keep the work of the church going, subsidize schools, help the poor, minister to the needy and continue the missionary work of the church.

But this is not the real reason why we should give. As always in our faith, there is something greater going on. There is more than meets the eye. So why  are we commanded (it’s not an option) to give sacrificially to the work of the Church?

Is it just because the pastor has to pay the bills, the priest needs a salary, the church needs a new roof and we have to help the poor people?

Yes and no.

We certainly do need money for mission, but there is a more profound and disturbing reason we are commanded to give.

In the gospels a rich young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answers, “Sell all that you have and give to the poor.”

Look closely. The primary reason is not so the poor will have food and shelter.

The primary reason for the command is that the man will be able to inherit eternal life.

Jesus then goes on to say how difficult it is for rich people to enter eternal life — more difficult than a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

So where does that put us? An awful lot of Catholics in the United States are wealthy. By the world’s standards they are very wealthy. (I heard that if you have one computer in your home, that puts you in the top 5% of the world’s population wealthwise.)

We are wealthier, far wealthier per capita, than our grandparents could have dreamed of — and yet our churches and school continue to have to beg for money. We continue to have to put on gala fundraising events and coax people to cough up even just a little of their money.

Yes, I know, I know. There are some Catholics who are very generous, and thank God for them, but we also have to stop and be realistic.

Many Catholics don’t give very much to the Church at all.

The big scary problem here is that this lack of generosity is not primarily a social issue. In other words, it’s not so much that the poor will be hungry and homeless.

Instead, the really big problem is that we have to draw the conclusion from the gospel that if you are rich and you are not sacrificially generous then you will go to hell.

There. I’ve said it. If you’re rich (and most Americans are rich by world’s standards) and you are not sacrificially generous, you will go to hell.

And now I will hear the good religious people tell me how wonderful they are, what good works they do, what time they give to the church, how they say their prayers and read their Bible and lead good lives.

Read that gospel again. That’s exactly what the rich young man said to Jesus. He told Jesus how good he was.

The underlying principle is very simple: You cannot serve God and money. Sometimes when preaching I’ll hold up a dollar bill and say, “You can’t serve George and Jesus!” but a sad majority of American churchgoing Catholics still serve money, not God.

When we give generously we show our money who’s boss. We break the power of money over us and set our priorities where they should be. By giving generously we break the idol of the dollar and turn our hearts to God. That’s why we’re commanded to give.

I hate writing this because I am very aware that we are entering a serious financial crisis. Many will be unemployed and unable to give. But the amazing thing is, I have found that those who are unable to give are very often the most generous in proportion to their wealth. A man with 10 dollars is far more likely to give one dollar than the man with 10 million dollars will give one million.

Because of this I always hesitate to ask for money because I know it is the poor widow who will feel she must do more while the fat cat millionaire is the one who gets mad at me for mentioning money!

While reminding my readers of the need to give generously, I would also remind them of the need to remember all those who can’t give at this time and to find ways to assist the people in their parish and community who are facing financial ruin.

So why should you give more generously? To help the needy and assist the Church’s mission — but most of all, for Heaven’s sake. For your soul’s salvation. Because if you don’t give, you’re serving George, not Jesus. And if you serve a false God, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.