When A Parish Wins The Lottery
I have never won the lotto. I won a few rands in the distant past, and I suppose to win it, you have to be in it. But that doesn’t stop me dreaming about a big win…
I really struggle with parting with any money for tickets. Like a TV licence, playing the lotto is throwing good money after bad. The lottery’s dealings are just as convoluted, obscure and possibly dangerous in the long term as the SABC’s.
What I have experienced is a biblical-style jubilee: a large-scale remission of debt, motivated by nothing other than the love of God and of his Church.
Recently, the parish I moved into a few months ago was the double beneficiary of a donation that closed our loan account—a donation of R2,6 million—and the wiping out of a paper debt to our archdiocese.
The effect of this generosity is that now our community can focus on being and building Church, rather than spending our time and effort on the repayment of debt. There are really good and generous people out there in our communities!
In the early discussion of the Catholic Church’s position on the national lottery, our bishops chose to support the lottery as a way by which resources could be made available to communities and projects while acknowledging that we all want something out of our generosity.
What a colossal backfire this position proved to be! The lottery has enabled the state—which can’t decide if it’s a welfare state or a privilege reinforcement vehicle—to abrogate its necessary responsibility to the welfare of all to a rather obscure process to fund projects that should be in the realm of the Social Development Department.
Of course, the Social Development Department has become the vehicle for all sorts of captures.
Anyway, even if the bishops’ conference had proclaimed the national lottery intrinsically disordered, no one would notice.
So, what does all this have to do with a parish?
What I think people notice is that parish communities—with their constituent families, prayer groups, sodalities, ministries and so on—can become effective vehicles for both local and outward-focused charity.
With effective and organised programmes, the generosity that is so much part of our communities becomes channelled in a way that builds both confidence and accountability.
It’s this space—call it Outreach, Caritas, St Vincent de Paul, whatever—that shows that the real lottery is not in winning but in being part of an effective programme that does what the Church does best.
By admitting that the state is not capable of covering all its responsibilities—be that as a result of lack of capacity, deliberately crushed and obfuscated capacity, incompetence, lack of vision, direction and leadership—it is the Church that takes up the heart for society, because we are in the heart of society and aren’t afraid to get motivated for local communities.
I worry sometimes that our parishes have become just another activity in our very busy lives, where weekends are often more pressurised than our weekdays, with family obligations, school stuff, socialising and myriad other responsibilities and distractions.
This busyness diminishes our space and time for the Church.
This is made that much easier when the church we attend is not a church we are part of. Where it is just theatre or spectacle or even dogged obligation is what keeps us returning, we have no effective and active mission, nothing that takes from our time and talent.
As Pope Francis pushes the Church to regain mission focus, we need to build a connection that makes our churches the centre of a universe of service!