We all belong to a community of beggars, each with a gift we can share with the world. CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

Luke Stocking: We come as beggars, but bearing a gift

  • February 26, 2021

I come like a beggar with a gift in my hand. These are the opening lyrics to a song by Sydney Carter that I learned as part of the Toronto Catholic Worker community many years ago. As we enter the season of Lent and its call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, I find myself quietly singing it to myself. The song continues, “By the hungry I will feed you, by the poor I’ll make you rich, by the broken I will mend you, tell me which one is which.”

People often, not unjustly, criticize the Church for its wealth. But fundamentally, the Church is a beggar. It cannot survive without the generosity of the faithful community, freely given. There is no dollar cost for entry. No one kicks you out if you do not put any money in the collection basket.

When our parish began using Eventbrite to facilitate the COVID-19 guidelines on Mass attendance, this stood out for me. Cost of a “ticket” to Sunday Mass? $0.00. This is radical economic inclusivity. Instead of telling us the price for entry, we are offered a gift by a beggar.

By virtue of what it means to be a Catholic who belongs to a parish community, we are also therefore beggars ourselves. I do not think we consider this perspective often enough. As the lay faithful we see ourselves as the ones who give money to the Church, and by Church, we think of clergy who are responsible for the economic decisions the Church makes. We complain about how many collections there are on a Sunday. We complain that we are always being asked for money.

My perspective changes, though, when I become aware that I am not someone who receives a service from the Church and then determines what I should offer in exchange for that service. My perspective changes when I am able to see that I belong to a community of beggars concerned for their salvation and the salvation of the world.

The money we give is for the good of OUR community and its mission. In this regard it is worth noting that in a Church hierarchy where the clergy are charged with the responsibility of governance, the parish finance council is the only lay body of a parish that is mandated according to Canon Law (Canon 537). The stewardship of the wealth of the parish must involve its lay members who build it.

We belong to a community seeking to sustain itself without charging a set price for belonging or for the gift of the Lord that it offers. While we have sometimes failed in this ideal (e.g. plenary indulgences run amok in the Middle Ages), for the most part it has defined the economic model of our Church.

The Holy Spirit certainly lay strong economic foundations shortly after Pentecost. In Acts 2:45 we read that “all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” While very few of us among the laity today are as radical as those early Christians, the foundation remains.

One way to broaden your perspective in the way I am suggesting is to participate in any form of begging on behalf of the Church yourself. Rather than focusing on your relationship to the collection basket, participate in the works of the Church that call on us to beg so that she can carry out her mission of salvation. It may be as simple as being an usher or asking a local business to sponsor a parish event. It could be holding the St. Vincent de Paul box after Mass or holding a fundraiser to support your parish’s local outreach to those in need.

As someone who is part of the Church in Canada’s organized response to the cry of the poor in the Global South, I am inspired each Lent by my fellow Catholics who become beggars for 40 days during our ShareLent campaign. Thousands of members of Development and Peace – Caritas Canada across the country share the good news of what we are doing globally to exercise the option for the poor. Part of sharing that good news is begging their parish communities and the wider public they are a part of to support it.

I have made begging part of my own Lenten practice this year in a special way. Each day during Lent I am inviting someone to become a monthly supporter of our mission. Each day during Lent I am recognizing that I am a beggar who belongs to a community of beggars who believe we have a gift in our hands to share with the world.

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions for Development and Peace.)

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