The Good News of Christmas: Salvation!

As a deacon at St. Thomas More parish, I am occasionally privileged to deliver homilies to our students at school Masses. A lover of Scripture (and a fourth year Catholic Biblical School student, which I also love), I use these opportunities to remind them that we can summarize the Good News in just two words: “Jesus saves!”

The salvation Jesus offers is his greatest gift to us, showing the depth of God’s love.

Quoting John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.” Did you notice that John says “gave”?  That word is key to grasping God’s love for us and salvation.  Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” and then he walked the talk.  Do we walk our talk?

If the only life we knew was that of this world, we wouldn’t know how to make sense of suffering.  Jesus showed us that God didn’t become man to eliminate suffering, but to transform it — we have to wait for Heaven for a life without suffering.  But, now, do we seek to do what we can to transform the lives of those who are laden with suffering?  A workshop I recently attended highlighted “The Five Expressions of Generosity.”  They are:  Hospitality, Service or Volunteering, Gifts, Emotional-Relational Support, and Monetary Giving.

Giving in all those forms is a critical element in a Christ-like, loving life. We are reminded by Jesus, who told us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Giving is a natural tie-in to Christmas, because the love God calls us to is a sacrificial love, a love where we focus on the other, not on ourselves. It is a love in which we focus on giving, not on receiving.

A disproportionate amount of monetary giving usually occurs in December, so I want to turn my focus to that aspect of generosity.  St. Paul shows an interesting angle on gifting in Philippians 4:17: “It is not that I am eager for the gift; rather, I am eager for the profit that accrues to your account.” He must have been familiar with Jesus’ words in Luke 11:41: “But as to what is within, give alms and, behold, everything will be clean for you.”

Giving is found attached to another great promise, just a chapter later in Luke 12:33-34: “…[G]ive alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in Heaven.” Paul knew that, no matter how great our gifting might be, God has promised us never to be outdone in generosity (see Matthew 19:29).  That’s pretty amazing, since God is the source of all we have.

We know that we are only saved by God’s grace, so what do these promises about almsgiving from Jesus mean?  Revelations 14:13 tells us, “Let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.” So, indeed, our works will accompany us; they will count towards the “profit that accrues to our account.”

Second Corinthians 4:18 says: “For what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.”  It is most important that we live in a way that maximizes our eternal life experience. Jesus came, died, rose and ascended into Heaven — not so that we would achieve perfection in this life or obtain relief from all our sorrows now, but so that we may have eternal life!  We will be eternally grateful if we manifest our faith in our living … and in our giving.  St. John of God said:  “Give alms, my brethren; give alms for the love of yourselves.”

Someday, in fact, may we look forward to hearing these words from Jesus (Matthew 25:34), which will be better than any Christmas gift we ever opened: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The Catholic Foundation, which is legally separate from the Church, partners with donors to steward their gifts (end of life gifts, in particular) to parishes, schools, specific ministries, the archdiocese, and other non-profits. As CEO of The Catholic Foundation, Deacon Steve invites you to reach out to him and his team to discuss securing your legacy for beyond your lifetime.

COMING UP: When donating, be smart about it

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It’s the end of the year and that means Thanksgiving, Christmas and year-end giving. Most annual donations occur in December –one-third to be exact – and 12 percent in the last three days. Unfortunately, it’s also estimated that two-thirds of donors do no research before giving.

To make the most out of your giving this season, we asked The Catholic Foundation and Catholic Charities for some tips on how to donate smarter.

Giving through The Catholic Foundation

The Catholic Foundation of Northern Colorado was established in 1998 to help the faithful give to the Church in the best possible way, not only by cash, but also through other personal assets.

“The Catholic Foundation is the preferred ministry to receive planned gifts for the benefit of our parishes, schools and Catholic organizations,” said Jean Finegan, director of planned giving and development for The Catholic Foundation.

Most assets that Americans hold are investments, real estate, insurance policies and retirement plans. The Catholic Foundation safeguards all these types of gifts for the charitable purpose you desire.

As Finegan affirmed, planned giving allows us to leave a legacy of faith for the generations to come. It’s a final testament “of who we are, what we value and whom we love.”

Here are some ways you can donate smarter with the Foundation.

Donor Advised Fund Account

Starting your donor advised account with the Catholic Foundation will allow you to receive tax advantages and an immediate charitable tax deduction for each contribution. You can then recommend grants to your favorite charities.

“This is a beautiful way to involve family members in the benefits of faith-based philanthropy,” Finegan said.

With a donor advised account from the Foundation, you can benefit from a complimentary set-up, while eliminating capital gain taxes on gifts such as stocks, real estate and other assets.

Appreciated Stock

Giving through appreciated stock is one of the smartest ways to donate to Catholic parishes and ministries.

With the market at an all-time high, you can gift your stock directly to the Foundation, avoid the capital gain tax and receive a charitable tax deduction, Finegan explained.

This means that it’s better to donate your stock directly to charity than to sell it first and donate the proceeds. Doing so could increase your contribution and tax deduction substantially.

The Catholic Foundation will accept your appreciated stock and sell it for the benefit of the Catholic parish or organization you wish to support.

IRA Charitable Rollover

You can make your donation to the Church or charitable organization go further if you give directly from your Individual Retirement Account.

If you are 70 1/2 years old and have money in an IRA, it is mandated that you withdraw a required minimum distribution from your account each year, Finegan noted.

The charitable rollover allows you to give up to $100,000 from your IRA to the Foundation.

The distribution satisfies the required minimum distribution and is not added to your adjustable gross income. This may help in avoiding additional income tax on the distribution, Finegan said.

The Catholic Foundation will also assist you with an IRA charitable rollover donation.

Giving through Catholic Charities

Some Catholic Charities shelters and childcare centers qualify for tax credits, which will help make the most out of your donation.

“It’s a win-win because the donation goes further to help those in need and the donor has an after tax lower cost of donation even though they gave more,” said Wayne Wolberg, chief financial officer for Catholic Charities of Denver. “We have many donors contributing through [these opportunities].”

Enterprise Zone

Enterprise Zones exist to encourage a private involvement in economically distressed areas. The state of Colorado allows a 25 percent tax credit on state income taxes when a donation is made to qualifying homeless shelters, explained Wolberg.

Catholic eligible shelters include the Samaritan House in Denver, the Samaritan House Women’s Shelter in Denver, The Mission in Fort Collins and the Guadalupe Community Center in Greeley.

Consult your tax advisor for information on this tax credit option.

Childcare Tax Credit

The Childcare tax credit seeks to increase the quality and availability of child care in metro Denver. The state of Colorado allows a 50 percent tax credit on state income taxes when a donation is made to these ministries, Wolberg said.

The Catholic ministries that qualify for this credit are the Marisol Homes in Lakewood and Catholic Charities’ Early Childhood Education programs. See your tax advisor for more information.

Finegan encouraged all the faithful to contribute for the well-being of the Church and their own family: “Regardless of your age, circumstances or economic status, we encourage you to begin thinking about the legacy you wish to leave behind and the message you hope to share with your loved ones and your Catholic community.”