Faithful Catholics have long derided what are known as CEO Catholics: Christmas and Easter Only. It is easy to conclude one is not really a Catholic if one only comes to Mass twice a year, when everybody goes to whatever church they belong to, if only to be seen going to church or because it is a nice thing to do as a family. There is another acronym-ic Catholic that is just as false: the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Catholic.
In the season of Lent, we are asked to commit to greater depth in our prayers, our fasting, and our almsgiving. Prayers and fasting are interior practices, but almsgiving rapidly shifts our focus to the recipients of our monetary gifts. That external focus may lead us away from the purpose of almsgiving: the reason the Church asks us to engage in almsgiving is to bless us, the givers. The recipient is also blessed, but that is not the primary reason to give money during Lent.
Sacrificial giving of every kind blesses the giver more than it blesses the recipient. The only exception is the Sacrifice on the Cross made by Jesus Christ. Since He is blessing itself, his blessing cannot be increased. But for everyone else, the act of giving sacrificially, regardless of the nature of the gift, blesses the giver.
Consider a husband who sacrificially gives of his time to his spouse rather than to his golf game or his video game. He gave up something that is good (or at least not bad) for the good of another. That sacrifice blesses him. One could make a solid argument that for the other spouse, the gift of time is primarily a form of justice, for the sharing of self is part of what is due to the other in Holy Matrimony. So the main recipient of blessing is the giving spouse rather than the receiving spouse.
When it comes to money, we are quicker to fall into the Devil’s trap of focusing on the recipient rather the giver. Using Venmo or writing a check drains the account but it’s not like a gift of time or talent. But Venmo and checks are also how we trade money for stuff we use, and so the mentality we have when buying something can pervade our mentality when giving money. When we buy something, we are outcome oriented: I want a new pair of boots, and how can I get them. Money gets us the boots. When we give money to a worthy charity, we can easily slip into the same perspective: what outcome is likely if the charity gets my money? But the giving is not for the charity as much as it is for the giver, just as the rainfall is not to wash the pollen off the cars as much as it is to help the trees and flowers grow.
This is not to deny that clean cars are a good thing. Likewise, the good done by the service organizations inside and outside the Church is real. Service to Our Lord sanctifies the server whether or not the object of that service gets better or not. Doctors serve sick people even though people never stop getting sick. We cannot “solve” disease. I know the marketing arm of various charities uses militaristic campaign terms in the fundraising materials, but that is because they are Non Governmental Organizations who do good work within the secular world’s ethical framework. The world, which is ruled by the Father of Lies, claims to be fighting to cure cancer, develop a vaccine for Coronavirus, beat poverty, or whatever other charitable slogan pops into your mind. The Church knows that all of that is ultimately a lie, even though the Church knows that supporting those organizations that do not conflict with Church teachings on faith and morals is ultimately a good thing.
How can that apparent conflict be true? It’s true because the Church is not an NGO. We are not called out by God to cure cancer or end poverty. Jesus promised us that we will always have the poor. Since Jesus is Goodness itself, his words cannot be written off as the ramblings of a hater. So, what gives? Let’s look to our Holy Father for guidance that is seven years old:
Pope Francis said in his first Mass as Pope on March 14, 2013, “When one does not confess Christ,” he said, “one confesses the worldliness of the devil.” Later in his homily, he said, “Confess Jesus. If we don’t do that, we will be a pitiful NGO (non-governmental organization).”
The Church rallies to the Cross, foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23) as St. Paul noted. We confess Christ crucified. When the Black Death raged across the known world, taking a third of the population with it, the priests gave the sacraments sacrificially to the dying, and many gave their lives as they caught the plague from those they served. Our priests today are not permitted to minister according to their vocation because too many in positions of leadership have been convinced by secular ethics that the risk of infection is more important than the risk of a soul dying in mortal sin. We must rush back to the Cross of Jesus, or we will no longer be the Church of Christ but a pitiful NGO.