The Rich Man and Lazarus - A Paradigm for Fundraising

Dear Fr. Zagloba,

I'll let Mary know that you loved the cheesecake. It was only fitting that we do something special to celebrate the new furnace. Praise the Lord that the heat's back on.

I have been thinking about a comment you made on your way out. You're right. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a doozy. In our money obsessed culture, it's like a landmine. People, preachers especially, twist and contort themselves to avoid stepping on it. They're terrified that it will blow up in their faces. They are probably right in thinking that people simply won't listen to a message that seems to contradict the American dream that more cars, more houses, more money means more happiness. But we can't ignore what Jesus said. So how do we understand it? How should we let it inform our fundraising?

See people with new eyes

After you left, Mary and I discussed the parable further... which character in the story is the most wretched, the most in need of God's mercy? Think about it. Lazarus suffers terribly for what feels like a long time but then goes on to eternal consolation. Really, he only experiences and 'momentary and light affliction when compared with the weight of eternal glory.'

Now look at the rich man. He has everything that he desires in this life, but pays the penalty of eternal suffering for neglecting Lazarus. In the balance of eternity, his misery far outweighs Lazarus's. Jesus specifically points this out when He says "Woe to you who are rich now, for you have received your consolation." Jesus said this for a reason, and I think that fundraisers need to very carefully consider it.

Fundraising for the kingdom is all about mercy

When you're moving on to your next big fundraising project, fixing the Church roof, God's mercy is probably not at the top of your mind. Except if you are asking God, in His mercy, to deliver you from fundraising. But you need to recognize that fundraising is a ministry to the rich (and the middle class) in the same way that a soup kitchen is ministry to the poor. It meets them in their need for God's mercy.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy". You know that the word alms comes from the Greek word for mercy. By inviting your 'rich man' to be a donor, you are encouraging him to be merciful. His generous response opens the door for him to receive God's mercy. He may or may not know that he is need of God's mercy, but the parable points out how enormous that need may really be.

Modern fundraising techniques can be very useful in this process. Packaging your capital project with nice materials and clear budgets help people to make the decision to do good. You're asking them to do something has a direct, and potentially eternal, spiritual benefit. Almsgiving is a life-giving... a medicine for the soul.

Cheesecake, not Brussel sprouts

The way we approach our potential donors is still very important. If Mary had made the cheesecake with Brussel sprouts, it might have been healthier, but you wouldn't have eaten a second piece. Or a third. Or taken some home.

Remember in the parable how the rich man begged that someone be sent to his brothers to warn them. You get to be that messenger. Not by preaching gloom and doom and the danger of falling into hell. Jesus said that approach wouldn't work even if someone rose from the dead. In other words, the Brussel sprouts won't sell the meal.

You need to focus on the 'cheesecake' approach to almsgiving. Help them to see themselves as generous stewards of God's many gifts. Show them that it's exciting to build God's Kingdom. Enable them to experience the fun of serving the community. That their gift can really make a huge difference in people's lives.

The cheesecake will bring them back again and again. This will give the medicine of almsgiving a chance to change their lives. Every gift that they give to the Church and to the poor is a practical act of conversion. And not because you have frightened them to death of the punishments of hell, but because you have shared with them the delights of heaven. This empowers them to be cheerful givers.

This parable provides the key ingredient of the cheesecake, because it can transform the way you look at fundraising. It helps you to recognize that our biggest priority is not reaching a monetary goal, but filling the Kingdom of heaven with as many people as we can convince to come with us. Do we love the poor because they're poor? Or because they're people? Do we love the rich because they're rich? Or because their people? Poor and rich alike, all fall short of the glory of God and need more of God's mercy.

Don't fall into the social justice trap

One final thought on this parable. Understood wrongly, it can lead us into the social justice trap that says that the primary role of the Church is to alleviate physical poverty. I can say this because I've been raising money to feed the hungry for the last six, years. Serving the poor will always be a high priority, and well it should be because Jesus points out the penalty for neglect. But it is not the highest priority.

Love of God is a higher order commandment than love of neighbor. Remember the alabaster jar and ointment that anointed Jesus' feet before the Crucifixion. Jesus approved of this act of worship and specifically pointed out that it was better than selling the ointment to serve the poor. The worship of God is the highest use of any material good. Also, the greatest poverty, the most terrible wretchedness that exists in this life, or the next for that matter, is separation from God. Evangelism is ministry to the poor in spirit. Building a vibrant, active, and evangelistic parish life is the only way to minister to those who know the poverty of faith, hope, and love.

Social justice is good, but without Divine Justice it's just Marxism. Any altruistic heathen can provide bread to the hungry. Only a priest of Jesus Christ can bring them the Bread of Life. The Church is supernatural, and we have supernatural delights that won't fit into the materialist's narrow and corrupted understanding. Eucharistic adoration, beautiful liturgy, evangelism, faith formation... these meet the needs of the part of each person that is eternal and most dearly needs God's mercy.

The power of this parable lies in the way it teaches us to look at each person, rich or poor, with an eternal perspective. Everyone needs the mercy and the hope that only the Church in all of its fullness can provide. God has prepared a banquet for all men to feast for all eternity. You get to deliver the invitations.


Nathan, the Almoner

P.S. We both know several very wealthy, very generous people. They prove the point I'm trying to make. Their great joy in giving is the fruit of their the love of God they express through their generosity.

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