If every Catholic in the U.S. gave generously, proportional to their means, the Church—and dare one say, the world—would be transformed overnight. The impact this kind of giving would have on the work of the New Evangelization is, without hyperbole, incalculable.
The Situation in the Pews
As it stands now, charitable giving by U.S. Catholics is not in a good state compared to other Christian ecclesial communities, as well as other religions. According to a report by Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life, only 15% of Catholics tithe 10% or more of their income to charity, compared to 44% of Evangelicals and 75% of Mormons.
Looking deeper at Catholic giving in parishes, Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported that 34% of Catholics give approximately $1.92 or less per week. Another 33% give an average of $5.78 a week, and the final 33% give on average $9.64 or more a week. What’s more, only 17% of Catholics reported giving regularly to their annual diocesan appeal. 
It goes without saying that apostolates around the country could do so much more to advance the mission of the Kingdom of God if they had increased financial means. It is a practical fact of our time and society, and has always been a need. However, this lack of financial means creates an environment that contributes to many of the Church’s institutions acting from attitudes of scarcity, when our Lord calls us to act with an attitude of abundance and generosity.
When our Lord calls us to act, he always calls us to act with spreading the Gospel in mind, both in word and in deed. This has been true since the Lord founded the Church. In the Middle Ages, the Dominican Order was founded to combat heresy as well as to spread the Gospel anew—to light up souls with the love of God. This mission of preaching entrusted to the friars required resources to propel the mission, hence the Order’s mendicant or begging tradition. However, this fundraising was always at the service of the Gospel and oriented to the salvation of souls. This is the hermeneutic through which one should view modern Catholic fundraising and the New Evangelization.
As the New Evangelization continues its work to extend the Kingdom in our time, we can see a clear and compelling need to focus parts of that mission on inspiring the faithful to joyfully give of their blessings. We will argue that, following biblical examples and the mendicant Dominican model, fundraising and begging in the Church should be oriented to this evangelization (towards the salvation of souls), rather than just an effort to “pay the bills.” If not, the Church is in danger of simply funding the maintenance of the New Evangelization, rather than expanding its mission. The attitudes of scarcity and maintenance, or “survival mode,” is deadly for an apostolate.
The first reference to tithing, in the strictest sense, appears, most fittingly, near the beginning of Scripture. In Genesis 14, Melchizedek, the priest of God the Most High, blesses Abram following his military victory. Scripture then immediately notes that “Abram gave [Melchizedek] a tenth of everything” he had won (Gen 14:19-20). In classical typology, Melchizedek is a figure who foreshadows Christ. This willingness of Abram to tithe foreshadows the Christian custom of tithing. Thus, Abram’s generosity gives us not only the traditional notion of the Biblical tithe of 10%, but reinforces the notion that all our blessings flow from God, and that returning those blessings is a good and necessary part of discipleship. What would our communities look like today if, at every blessing, the first act of the faithful was to return a portion of those blessings to God?
In Exodus 25, we see the Lord call on Moses to ask the people for resources to build the Ark of the Covenant. Interestingly, the Lord does not ask for a specific amount, but tells Moses that the people will give “the contribution their hearts prompt them to give me. These are the contributions you shall accept from them: gold, silver and bronze” (Ex 25:1-2). One could jokingly argue we have just been shown what fundraisers call a gift string, a series of ascending (or descending) gift options used to encourage people to self-select a higher gift than they may normally give—it helps them to better respond to that prompting on their heart. But why do not more Catholics respond to the “promptings of their heart?”
What pastor would not welcome one of his parishioners having a “King David Moment?” In 1 Chronicles, King David stands before the people of God and proclaims, “I give to the house of my God my personal fortune in gold and silver: three thousand talents of Ophir gold, and seven thousand talents of refined silver . . . ” (1 Chron 29:3-4). One could in jest argue this to be the first capital campaign lead gift ever recorded. However, King David is not done. He then turns to the “heads of the families, the tribal commanders of Israel, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds . . . ” and challenges them by saying, “who else will contribute generously and consecrate themselves this day to the Lord?” (1 Chron 29:5). One could in fun argue this to be the first capital campaign matching challenge ever issued. It worked. Scripture tells us that the people “came forward willingly” and that “the people rejoiced over these free-will offerings, for they had been contributed to the Lord wholeheartedly.” King David is also said to have rejoiced greatly (1 Chron 29:9)—as all good Pastors and leaders would—giving thanks to God, the source of all blessings. He completed his capital campaign goal in one speech! King David’s personal gifts, the gifts of his wealthy friends, and the savings and offerings of the people were united, in love of God, to create the Temple to the Lord during the reign of his son Solomon—a temple that would inspire countless souls to the worship of God.
At first glance, this might seem like a type of maintenance fundraising. David has centralized cultic worship, has united his kingdom, and has set up the institutions that will keep it functioning. However, we must remember that this was no mere institutional gesture. David truly believed in the supernatural nature of what he was doing. This was not just a monument to himself, nor to keep the institutional priesthood going. Rather, this was a statement to the whole world that there was one God in Israel. This God was the supreme God and his presence dwelt among his people. And what was the result? The temple of Solomon. It was this temple which inspired, as the scriptures say, the whole world to come and visit. Even the Queen of Sheba came to see this glorious temple and, as legend has it, she and her people were converted. With this example, fundraising, ecclesial institutions and the evangelical mission of the faith unite with lasting impact.
Lastly, we look to St. Paul who writes to the people of Corinth, asking them to give according to their means, so they may “supply the needs” of the faithful in Jerusalem. He extolls them to give freely so that there may be equality among them. He is asking his brothers and sisters in Christ to support one another in their time of need (2 Cor 8:7-15). Due to the liturgical and theological import of these epistles, it is easy to forget that one of the main purposes of this letter was to be a begging letter to help the Church in Jerusalem, the very heart of evangelization in the early Church. Therefore, one could jokingly argue this to be the first direct mail solicitation letter in Christian history. It would be interesting to know how St. Paul tracked the “response rate” of his letter.
These references point to a direct connection between the collection of material goods, the joyful faith of a true disciple, and evangelization of the world. In other words, Catholic fund-raising must be enhanced as a means to help expand the impact of the New Evangelization and as a means of personal conversion or reversion for souls everywhere. In The Soul of the Apostolate, Fr. Jean-Baptiste Chautard argues that:
At every start of her history, the Church has received valuable help from the whole body of the faithful . . . ardent souls who knew how to unite their forces and to devote, without stint, to the cause of our common mother, their time, abilities and fortune, often sacrificing their liberty or their very lives. A wonderful and encouraging sight, indeed, this providential harvest of works springing up just when they are most needed and in precisely the way that the situation seems to demand! Church history clearly proves that each new need, each new emergency to be faced, has invariably meant the appearance of the institution that the circumstances required.
This means that the Province of God will indeed come to the aid of Christians in every time period. However, it also means that the whole body of the Church must act together to support each other through our resources, especially when it is to catch souls! Fr. Chautard’s whole work is focused on helping the apostle become a “thief of souls” (an evangelist).
Additionally, Fr. Henri Nouwen states in his popular and influential presentation, The Spirituality of Fund-Raising, that:
Fund-raising is . . . always a call to conversion. And this call comes to both those who seek funds and those who have funds. Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration.
This focus on souls by Chautard and Nouwen helps the Catholic fundraiser stay grounded spiritually, and allows him to be effective in the world, but not of the world.
Therefore, we propose today’s “new thing”, or “new need,” as Fr. Chautard describes, is the New Evangelization, and that a mendicant attitude and perspective on fundraising is important to its success.
So too, then, the Church must refocus her efforts on preaching that God has prompted the hearts of the faithful to give freely for this work. This preaching benefits not only the New Evangelization, but also helps Catholics embrace true Christian stewardship, much like King David inspired countless friends to help him build the Temple.
The example of the Dominicans and their 800-year mendicant tradition can provide insights into how faith and fundraising can be united to inspire people to respond to God’s call to be generous.
The Dominican Mandate to Preach for Souls
The Dominicans have taken up the Apostolic Mandate of Christ to go and spread the Gospel to all nations. We have done it now for 800 years. While the task of spreading the Gospel might be timeless, and the core truth of the faith cannot change, the method by which the Gospel is preached certainly can. All Catholics must be aware of the difficulties that we face with regard to the spread of the Gospel—that is, we must be aware of, as Vatican II says, the “signs of the times.”
The Sobering Statistics
Many people often drift away from the faith of their forefathers, especially during their teen years. However, in times past, these souls often came back to the church when they wanted to get married and start their own families. Now, the situation is far more complicated. A third of all adults (32%) who were raised Catholic no longer consider themselves Catholic. If “former Catholic” were considered a religious group, it would be the second largest denomination in the United States after Catholicism. It is important to note that these are not lukewarm Catholics or “Christmas and Easter Catholics,” these are people who formally state that they are no longer Catholic even though they were in some sense raised Catholic.
Generally, those who leave the church do so on two tracks—those who leave for nothing (nones) and others to Evangelical Christianity. Our Evangelical brothers and sisters are often asking for a more personal spirituality that they do not find in the Catholic Church. The “nones” are either indifferent to religion or altogether hostile.
With regard to those people who self-identify as Catholics, 38% rarely attend Mass. This lack of encounter with God in the liturgy—the Word proclaimed in the Church and the Eucharist—has lasting effects. Recently, a poll suggested that of those who self-identify as Catholics, 29% believe that God is an impersonal force. This is a real problem for a religion that believes in the incarnation! Even among those who regularly attend Mass there are issues.
The Popular Religion of Today
In 2005, Notre Dame Sociologist Christian Smith identified the religion of most teenagers of the day as Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism. We would argue, along with The Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput that this is the de facto religion of many American adults who are de iure Catholics.
The creed of those who practice this de facto faith would be akin to this. First, a God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth. Second, God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and most world religions. Third, the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. Fourth, God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he’s needed to fix a problem. Finally, fifth, good people go to heaven when they die. Archbishop Chaput then goes on to say that,
For many young people, the moralistic part of “moralistic therapeutic deism” simply means being pleasant and responsible, working on “self-improvement,” taking care of one’s health and doing one’s best to succeed. “Therapeutic” means focusing on feeling good and happy, being secure and at peace. It’s about subjective well-being and getting along amiably with other persons. And “deism” means that God exists—he created our world—but he’s not particularly involved in our affairs, especially when we don’t want him around. He’s available to meet our needs. He’s not demanding on us, but we can be demanding on him. Obviously very little of this has anything to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the faith of the martyrs. And that’s a problem.
Sherry Weddell, an author and co-director of the St. Catherine of Siena Institute, an institute for the formation of the laity, claims that the root of much of this malaise is the result of a lack of living faith. Lack of a personal faith in a God who loves each and every one of us. Lack of faith in a God whose action should dominate every corner of our lives. In short, it is due to a lack of evangelization. We would add to Sherry’s thesis that this lack of a personal living faith is also a problem of poor catechesis. Not only do young people not have a personal faith, they have been poorly formed in what they think the Church teaches. Even worse, they think that they know what the Church teaches, and are ignorant of their ignorance. The result is the creed of the Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deist, and the further result of many people not caring. Why go to Mass, or give of your treasure to the Church, or teach the faith to your children, if all religions are the same and God is not an important part of daily life?
The results of a lack of evangelization can produce some frightening results. Sometimes we have Catholics who are neither evangelized nor catechized. They may even receive all of the sacraments. However, because they have no real sense of sin nor of the need for repentance and conversion of life, they will not be able to take advantage of the great graces offered to us in those sacraments. A person could then receive the character of Baptism, and the Character of Confirmation, but not receive the grace. It is frightening to think of someone being sacramentalized but not evangelized.
The Dominican Option:
How Our Preaching Has Changed
The author Rod Dreher, drawing on the writings of the eminent Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and personal visits to the newly reconstituted monastery of Benedictines at Norcia, has recently suggested a plan, forwarded by his now-widely read book The Benedict Option. This is the idea that a new St. Benedict needs to arise and monastic life should be where Christianity waits out the new dark ages. Dreher does not believe that this should be some sort of “head to the hills” mentality. There will certainly always be a need to retreat to monasteries for contemplation and silence. It is in the monastery that the work of contemplation happens on a deep level, and this is essential in the formation of new disciples in our difficult world.
However, there already is a religious order which lives out this monastic life and takes the fruit of it to others. It is the Dominicans. Catholic University of America Theologian Chad Pecknold advocated a few years ago in First Things for a “Dominican Option.” This is the vision of Our Holy Father St. Dominic to found a missionary order, yet a mission born out of cloistered contemplation—a type of vita mixta. Far from withdrawal, this option means going again into the midst of the world to preach anew.
While the message of salvation is eternally the same, the methods are different from 800 years ago when the Dominicans were founded. First, the Dominicans have always concentrated on doctrinal preaching, that is preaching to correct error and to uphold the truth of the Catholic faith. This is still desperately needed, especially in times of confusion with regard to the faith and poor catechesis. A good explanation as to why the church teaches this or that is absolutely necessary in our time of cafeteria Catholicism. However, there is also a need for evangelical preaching.
Dominican Evangelical Preaching Today
Evangelical preaching helps ignite the faith in people and communities. This helps move them to learn to pray and to open their hearts to Christ to develop a relationship with God. This can include preaching from the pulpit, preaching during retreats, or even preaching on the streets. Oftentimes this street preaching is very simple. It might involve singing religious songs, handing out holy cards or rosaries, or blessing people. It also can involve building new beautiful churches, or renovating our churches to make them more beautiful, or filling them with beautiful music. The via pulchritudinis is essential for any form of the new evangelization.
There is also a need to make this Gospel heard everywhere, and to employ all of the means to preach, especially including new media. We can preach on the streets and reach a limited number of people, but with the interconnectedness of new media, our preaching can scale outward tremendously, reaching souls in places we never imagined reaching before. This is the beginning of going to the peripheries—to the places the church barely reaches, including the cyber world. We have been challenged by the Gospel and re-challenged by our Holy Father Pope Francis to go out and preach. The Dominicans are responding with ever growing strength in the United States at this time, especially among the young.
Dominican Poverty Today:
At the Service of the Mission
The notion of Dominican Poverty has always been a little bit different than other orders. Other orders, notably the Franciscans, and to a lesser extend the Benedictines, have embraced poverty as a penance and as a means to spiritual growth. Being poor for the sake of Christ and identifying with those who are poor can help a person grow in holiness. It can also help bring other people to heaven. Recall the rich man in the Gospel who was weighed down by his many possessions. St. Francis has been oft quoted as saying, “Preach Christ in all things and if necessary, use works.” Franciscan poverty is certainly a part of that preaching.
However, for the Dominican, poverty is all about preaching. We practice poverty for the salvation of souls, and not just our own. Like St. Francis, we would hold that our poverty can be an effective means of evangelization. When people see that we do not live in more luxurious rectories or priories, but in buildings that are monastic, they are more likely to embrace the credibility of our message.
There is also another practical side of Dominican poverty, it helps us be mobile for the preaching mission. Dominicans are often referred to as fratres in via because we move around so much. If we had lots of possessions, this would be difficult. A general rule we try to hold is that our possessions should comfortably fit into one room. Because we move so much, this often has to happen as we clear out the old room and move into the new. Our Dominican Sisters often have even more stringent requirements, with all of their possessions required to fit into two suitcases.
Finally, it is presumed that our Dominican poverty would never get in the way of the preaching mission, but should serve to enable it to thrive. If we need something for our ministry, we should have it. In the past, the primary example of this was books. A Dominican, whenever he or she traveled, always had his or her bags weighted down by all of the books that one needed for preaching engagements. Now, with the advancement of technology, we need computers, Kindles, tablets and phones. A Dominican always has to do some soul-searching before buying something like this. Will it be a scandal to the laity? Do we always need the absolute latest gadget—phone, iPad, or computer? No, but one does need them.
We also need an education. This is not an inexpensive item either. Every male Dominican has at least six years of full time academic formation. Many of us have more graduate level training as well if we go on to take Doctoral degrees. Oftentimes, too, we need continuing education to keep up with the signs of the times. We need funds to get the training we need to be effective preachers of the Gospel. For those funds, we need to beg.
Fundraising for Preaching in the New Evangelization
Our needs then as Dominicans are manifold. We need buildings to live in – especially monastic buildings that inspire contemplation. We need these buildings to be masculine and monastic—to form us in the contemplative life, as well as to form us to go out and preach the truth again. These buildings are formational in that they help us construct a monastery in our hearts.
We need funds to educate our brothers preparing for the Priesthood with the best education possible in the classics and in the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. We also need to prepare them for ministry in the world today. We need funds to take care of our elderly and infirm friars who have preached so well for so long. We need money to build the temples of today. As the Davidic and Solomonic temple had an evangelical component, so too do our churches today. In a time when we are thankfully leaving behind an age that saw utilitarian and uninspiring houses of worship, we need money to build beautiful new Priory churches and restore our old ones in the light of beauty. People are attracted to the beauty of the edifice. People come hearing about the inspiring liturgy. People are then fully converted by the preaching and response to the grace offered by Christ through the sacraments. Finally, we need the actual tools to preach—computers, phones, books, and printed materials to help spread the Word of God right now.
Giving as an Opportunity
for the Laity to Participate in the Mission
Christ did not leave us a book, but he left us a Church. This Church is organized in such a way that everyone has a significant role to play in advancing the Kingdom of God. We are all called to contribute of our time, talent, and treasure to help with the ministry.
From the beginning of the Dominican Order, like St. Paul and the other Apostles, we have relied on the generosity of the faithful to survive and advance our mission. Of these opportunities, contributing financially to the mission of the Order is a good and noble task. This is true of the very wealthy who give, it is true of the middle class who give, and it is true of the poor widow who gives only a few mites, but gives out of all she has.
Although the laity are called to be primarily light and leaven by mixing with the people of this world and witnessing to the faith, they can also be an effective leaven by participating in the evangelizing efforts of the friars. This giving of time, talent and treasure must always be focused on evangelization and the winning of souls. We must not retreat into maintenance mode or simply fundraising to uphold institutions. We need to ask ourselves, “does this fundraising ultimately help contribute, either directly or indirectly to the salvation of souls and the spread of the Gospel?”
Caution in Fundraising
One of the most deadly mistakes of fundraising would be to view a person like an ATM machine. Whenever a priest or any fundraiser forgets that what they are doing is building relationships that help the preaching mission as well as further holiness in a person, then we have come off our sure moorings and are in dangerous waters. We must avoid, at all costs, making the laity feel as though their role is to “pray, pay, and obey.” This kind of clericalist attitude is unhealthy, contrary to the teachings of the Vatican II, and, at its root, contrary to the Gospel itself. Christ did indeed found a Church that is the people of God hierarchically ordered. However, this hierarchy is one of service. The laity help create the environment for the servants to serve according to our callings.
The antidote to this reductionist view of the donor to a cash machine is a reminder that our first purpose as Dominicans is to be a venator animarum—a hunter of souls. This zeal for souls must fire every single Dominican, including those of us working in advancement. The purpose of the Dominican order is the salvation of souls. We must recognize that our donors have souls too, and the ultimate purpose of their lives is to become saints. If we can help the donor who loves the Dominicans to realize their passion and help us catch souls through their resources, so be it. However, if a donor were never able to give again, my first thought and worry should be for their soul, not for the fact that our coffers will not be full. Therefore, when I am cultivating donors, am I asking myself about how I am acting as a priest qua priest when I am with them? Do I ask them what I need to pray for? Do I offer to help them with the sacraments, with an ear to listen? Above all, I must ask, “do I really mean this? Do I really wish for their salvation more than for any donation that may ever come out of the relationship?” If I say “no” to any of these questions, then I should do some real soul-searching about what I am doing. When I have to stand before the judgement seat of Christ, he will not ask me how much money have I raised, but he will ask me “where are your children?” In other words, how have I functioned as a priest and Good Shepherd with regard to the flock entrusted to my care? How have I best been a father?
This is one of the reasons that the interior life is so necessary, and even more necessary for the apostle who works in development. An interior life where we can be honest before God and take to heart any critique we have received as important. We must strive for holiness so that the sins of mammon might not overcome us, and that we may never see people as objects to be used solely for their monetary ability.
Ideas for Application
- The Church must preach holistically, and continually, not just on giving money but on encouraging good stewardship in giving, saving and spending. This inculcates generosity, and a generous Catholic gives willingly according to their means.
- As St. Thomas teaches us, grace perfects nature, but does not obliterate or normally substitute for it. We need to be active beggars who cooperate with the Holy Spirit. St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas also believed in using the latest scientific methods possible, not only for doing theology, but for their whole mission. Therefore, we look to scientific methods today with regard to fundraising. We look at the latest best practices in fundraising, but also only use those aspects which are appropriate for the mission. It is important then to build a development office which uses best professional practices. However, that office must still be focused on the salvation of souls. We would therefore argue that apostolates of the New Evangelization must invest more resources in building professional fundraising offices for the ethical, effective and efficient collection of material goods for the Kingdom of God.
- Priests, religious, and lay leaders must build a culture of mendicancy that is not merely one of asking for money out of the desperation of scarcity and guilt, but instead begging with gratitude and dignity for the sake of the salvation of souls and the transformation of the world. This mission is worthy of investment!
Fundraising for the success of the mission of evangelization has existed even before the coming of Our Lord. Throughout the Old Testament there are numerous examples of the generosity of benefactors helping to further the mission of God’s people and to make God known in the world. St. Paul himself begs for funds on behalf of the early church. The Dominicans continue this today. However, in all of this begging, there has to be a primary focus on the worship of God and the salvation of souls.
In our age in the United States, we must be attentive to the malaise of therapeutic, moralistic, deism. We must not only counter it from our pulpits in our churches, but we must go out to the peripheries to evangelize. To do this, we must be equipped with the tools necessary for the mission. As we engage with our culture once again, we must rebuild Catholic families and culture one soul at a time, one family at a time. We do this with an eye on heaven realizing that our ultimate goal is to help the next generation become the saints that they are called to be.
Our fundraising must never be out of a sense of desperation or scarcity, but instead be focused again on the salvation of souls and the care of the world. Following principles of Dominican Poverty, monastic formation, and a zeal for souls, we should never hesitate in asking for the generosity of our brothers and sisters to help fulfill the mission of re-evangelizing our world today.
Featured Image: Parmigianino, The Conversion of Saint Paul, c. 1528; Source Wikimedia, PD-Old-100.
 B. Starks, B. & C. Smith, (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Institute for Church Life, 2010), 8-9.
 M. Gray, et al. (2013) U.S. Catholic Online Giving (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 2013), 5.
 Our point here is to simply call attention to the practical realities of running modern ministries, which, generally speaking, need more professional staff and resources to engage and evangelize the modern world effectively.
 Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O., The Soul of the Apostolate, trans. A Monk of Our Lady of Gethsemani (Charlotte, NC: TAN, 1946), 7.
 Henri Nouwen, The Spirituality of Fund-raising (Nashville, TN: Henri Nouwen Society and Upper Room Ministries, 2004), 4. This is a publication of comments he made in 1992 to the Marguerite Bourgeoys Family Service Foundation.
 Although the mission of preaching for souls is specifically entrusted to Dominicans by our very ratio for existence, the missionary mandate of all of the Baptized was specifically highlighted by Vatican II.
 Gaudium et spes.
 Sherry A. Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012), 24-32. Weddell very clearly lays out the problem in the whole of the first chapter of this book.
 Charles J. Chaput, “Junípero Serra and His Witness for Today,” Catholic Philly, 22 June 2013.
 This monastery is made up primarily of American monks and was in the center of the area in Italy devastated by massive earthquakes in 2016-17.
 Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Penguin Random House, 2017).
 Chad C. Pecknold, “The Dominican Option,” First Things (6 October 2014).
 Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, 167.