Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Doesn't the Church Sell Everything?

This is a question I've received a surprisingly high number of times in my priesthood. When you start to talk about making the sanctuary of a Church look like more than a used carpet sale room, some raise the question - "If the Church is for helping the poor, why not sell all that stuff, like Jesus said, and give it to the poor?"

Two comments about that:
1) My friend, Fr. Jonathan Meyer, had his Church broken into a year ago. The thieves were hoping to get the collection money, but ended up taking all of the chalices, a nice monstrance, and some ciboria. They tried to take them to a pawn shop to get some money for them and they pulled in a whopping 14 dollars for the items. Candlesticks, monstrances, chalices, etc. that look expensive are, at best, PLATED in gold, which means there is a microscopically small layer of gold on them. Apart from that layer of gold, which it costs more to remove from the metal than the removed gold is worth, the items are worth nothing to people. No one is looking for monstrances for their home or work, and obviously Churches aren't buying monstrances or chalices on the black market.

2) A couple of years ago, the government passed a gigantic spending stimulus and I kept hearing the totals for the bill hovering around 900 billion dollars. A big part of the bill was to return money to people for spending to help stimulate businesses. I kept thinking about how much money that would translate to me getting, but when I got my check and it was 400 dollars it made me realize how many people there are in our country. I was grateful to God for another 400 dollars, but it just didn't seem to fit the magnitude of the overall total I heard floating around.

So, let's pretend that the Church has a gigantic yard sale. Let us also pretend that someone actually WANTS the stuff the Church is selling. Let's pretend that outside the Church there is actually a demand for monstrances, candlesticks, chalices, and buildings. Let's pretend someone would actually pay one tenth of what St. Peter's Basilica is worth, let's pretend that all of the stuff the Church owns besides the artwork (probably the only thing that would actually fetch a remotely fair price at the "Catholic Church Yard Sale")... you see where I'm going here. Now divide the profits of the yard sale by 6 billion. What does that work out to? I would venture to say that the Church yard sale profit divided by the number of people in the world would work out to be a few dollars per person. What good would it do for people after they took their money from the Church and bought a few candy bars?

The fact is that our Churches are, as one author put it, living and real homilies; they convey truths to people through a simple but important beauty. The proclamation to the Truth that the real artifacts of the Church make to believer and unbeliever alike is infinitely more important than what those items could fetch on the market with the profits split among all the poor.