Lead others to Christ with a generous gift

Aaron Lambert

It’s a question you probably ask yourself every year: How far does the money you give to the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal really go?

The answer is simple: Really far, and yes, it makes all the difference in the world.

The annual Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal officially launches April 27. The ACA benefits nearly 40 ministries within the Archdiocese of Denver, each of which play a crucial part in the operation of the Catholic Church in northern Colorado as a whole. Last year’s appeal raised more than $10 million in donations, which were invested directly into those ministries.

“This year, I’d like to stress how your gift will have a real and lasting impact in the lives of others and in our world,” Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila wrote in a letter to the archdiocese. “Your willingness to imitate Christ’s life of service to all, through your charity to the appeal, will shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, protect the unborn, instruct our youth, evangelize college students, nourish vocations, comfort the elderly and draw many to a deeper union with Christ.”

As Father Dollins, Vicar General for the archdiocese, puts it, it does fund some of the less glamorous parts of Church administration, but in doing so, it supports all ministries and allows them to focus on doing what they were created to do: namely, ministering to people and leading them to Christ.

Additionally, “there’s a lot of aspects of the diocese that don’t have the means to do their own fundraising and probably shouldn’t spend time trying to do their own fundraising,” Father Dollins said. “The ministry should be able to just be the ministry.”

Each parish has an ACA fundraising goal based on the total annual offertory for the parish. However, funds raised from the ACA have the potential to benefit parishes, too. A two-tier parish rebate program was implemented several years ago as an incentive for parishes to encourage parishioners to give to the ACA.

“If everyone’s pulling to give to their parish, not only are they giving to the nearly 40 ministries, but at a certain level, a percentage goes back to the parish and helps them as well,” Father Dollins explained. “It’s a win for the whole diocese and for the whole parish.”

If a parish exceeds their goal for the ACA, 50 percent of every dollar raised after that goes back to the parish. For the parishes that have a harder time meeting their goal, they also have the opportunity for a rebate if they beat the amount of money raised for the ACA the previous year. If they do that, they get 25 percent of every dollar raised after that number.

Last year, 46 parishes received rebates at the 50 percent level and 53 parishes received rebates at the 25 percent level, for a total of more than $735,000 going back to the parishes.

This year’s ACA also continues the Nine Choir of Angels Giving Society, which designates different levels of giving with an angelic title. Last year, 2,500 donors joined this distinction by giving a gift of $1,000 or more. Additionally, the online giving option has been fine-tuned to provide the same convenience as the most popular online payment systems and makes it easier for those who would like to work an ACA donation into their monthly budget. Last year, 900 contributors supported the works of the Church through the monthly recurring gift option. Father Dollins encourages people to switch to giving year-round instead of the traditional five months.

“Why not make the ACA a recurring monthly gift that fits into the way you do the rest of your budget?” he said.

Amid the current Church crisis, Archbishop Aquila reassures the faithful that he and the Archdiocese of Denver are committed to full transparency and change within the Church. The Promise webpage (archden.org/promise) contains a wealth of information about how the archdiocese has handled allegations of sexual abuse of a minor in the past, and in February, the archdiocese voluntarily allowed for an independent review of all priest files related to the sexual abuse of minors.

No funds raised from the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal are ever used for legal expenses.

“One hundred percent of your appeal gift will support ministry operations and … no appeal funds were, are or ever will be used for legal expenses or settlements,” Archbishop Aquila wrote. “Donate to the appeal knowing that your gift will be prudently invested in programs that evangelize our faith and serve others.”

Catholics are asked to give a lot throughout the course of any given year, and it’s easy to see the ACA as just another ask that bears no significance. However, for the faithful in the Archdiocese of Denver, it’s important to see the needs of the larger Church and how far that dollar actually goes.

“It’s really easy to be focused on ‘me’ and tithing at your own parish, but [we are all] part of a larger Church that has expansive needs,” Father Dollins said. “I might be in a small town that doesn’t have a need to feed the poor, but the Cathedral does. I can’t necessarily help the poor where I’m at, but the Church is a lot bigger than my one location.”

COMING UP: Why stay in the Church?

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There are many people who have either left the Church or are currently considering leaving because of the scandals of recent decades. We have felt pain and righteous anger at our leaders and have suffered scandal from their betrayal. For some, the grand jury reports and lack of accountability for bishops have been the last straw. It’s hard to blame people for feeling this way, but we have to ask with Peter, “to whom, Lord, shall we go?” (John 6:68).

Significantly, this question comes after many disciples walked out on Jesus for his teaching on the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist that should be at the center of any response to the crisis. Peter answers his own question: “you have the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68). The Church is Jesus’ own body in the world, and we are members of his mystical body, given eternal life by consuming his own flesh at Mass. Without the Eucharist, Jesus’ presence in the flesh, the very heart of the Church, where would we be?

Bishop Robert Barron echoes Peter’s question in a recent pamphlet-style book, with over a million copies in print, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis (Word on Fire, 2019). He turns to the Bible and Church history to look for perspective on the crisis. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church, the betrayal of some of our priests and bishops takes on greater significance. They act in persona Christi at Mass, offering the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to the Father, and we depend on them for our sacramental life.

Fortunately, the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the sinlessness of priests, but rather the holiness of God. Barron points out, however, that priests will not get off easy, given the extremely harsh words that Jesus offers to those who lead children astray: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Mt 18:7-9). Barron also references the punishment of Eli, in 1 Samuel 2-4, who as priest and judge of Israel watched his own sons, who were also priests, abuse the people. Barron argues that this scene gives us the best example of God’s retribution for allowing abuse to happen and not correcting it.

Barron also looks at the tumultuous story of Church history for context on the current crisis. Although the Church is the mystical body of Christ, he references St. Paul assertion that we bear our treasure in earthen vessels, as evidenced by the human weakness of Christians throughout history. In fact, this weakness manifests the Lord’s grace guiding and preserving the Church in spite of us. Barron quotes Belloc that a proof of the Church’s divine foundation “might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” (43). Heresies, sinful popes, and sexual perversity have not fundamentally destroyed the Lord’s work, even if they have turned many people away. God has promised to remain with his Church and his providence will guide us especially through dark moments.

The crisis challenges us and raises the question of why we are Catholic. Most of us have been born Catholic and may take our faith for granted as something we’ve inherited from our parents. We may view belonging to the Church like membership in a voluntary organization. Rather, our life as members of Christ’s Body is a gift from God that changes our identity and unites us to God and our fellow Christians. As we experience challenges to faith, it is an opportunity to embrace this identity even more strongly — not as something that depends upon myself or anyone else in the Church, but on God. We go to Church to honor and thank him and to receive his grace, not to be a part of a human organization.

The Church is a family, called together by God, but, like any family, we experience pain from our own and each other’s sinfulness. As family, we can’t give up on each other, but have to “stay and fight” as Barron exhorts us, helping each other to be faithful to the mission that Jesus gave us: to love one another as he has loved us and to share the Good News of his salvation.

Featured Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash