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Pray, Pay, and Obey

In the past, the understanding by many was that Catholics were supposed to “pray, pay, and obey” to be good Catholics. (A search on the Internet shows the order of the first two, pray and pay, are sometimes switched). The saying articulated that Catholics are supposed to pray (centering on coming to Mass and devotions like the Rosary), pay (meaning to give financially to your parish), and obey (meaning to follow church teaching because the church said so).

Today I would like to reflect how I see this phrase applying today.

Prayer is important. Prayer has its own category on my blog. Likewise, my website has pages dedicated to the topic of prayer. Our communal prayer centers on coming together to celebrate Mass. The Eucharist is source and summit of who we are as Catholics (Lumen Gentium, 11). Our prayer at Mass is not limited to just the Prayers of the Faithful (General Intercessions) and the Eucharistic Prayer. The entire Mass is a prayer. It is a dialogue with God.

Prayer also includes devotions like the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It includes the Liturgy of the Hours. It also includes the prayers we offer for other people and ourselves.

The prayers I have described so far all follow a set form. There is a specific way Mass is celebrated. There are specific prayers said in the Rosary. There are prescribed psalms and readings for the Liturgy of the Hours. While the form and/or words are repetitious, they all involved dialogue with God. Remember “dialogue” flows both ways. We say prayers and readings to converse with God. That means listening. Prayer involves talking with God (See my video presentation, Talking to God: A Conversation About Prayer). We tell God what is going in our lives, seeking his help. We need to listen to what He has to say in response.

We need to pray. We need to be in relationship with God.

All were expected to pay. It was seen as an obligation. All who were able put their contribution in the weekly collection. Even today, the church counts on the contributions of parishioners. The church has bills to pay. That has not changed. What I hope has changed is an understanding of why parishioners are expected to “pay.”

It is not simply a “tax.” It is a call to contribute the mission of our church from the depths of our heart. Luke 21:1-4 tells the story of the poor widow’s contribution. Jesus sees both the rich and the poor widow “putting their offerings into the treasury.” The rich put in more money but it is the widow who Jesus praises for she “has offered her whole livelihood.” It required no effort for the rich to contribute for they had plenty of money. The poor widow gave from her heart.

We should not see our financial contributions as just helping to pay the parish bills. Yes, the church has bills to pay, but we ask parishioners to contribute not just to pay bills. Rather, we ask parishioners to contribute to help fulfill our call to proclaim the gospel. Your financial giving is part of how you can contribute to the ministry of the church. We call the contributions of parishioners “stewardship.” However, stewardship is not only financial giving (treasure). Parishioners can also give of their time and talents to help minister.

To “pay” is not your admission fee to Heaven. It is part of your contribution to fulfill what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come.”

“Obey” signified that parishioners are expected to do what the church says just because it says so. Many people did (and still do) because they trust the church. However, today many people have lost their trust in institutions. This is not just the church. People’s trust in government has also decreased. Politicians contradict one another so they can’t all be right. Within the church, some people (among other reasons) have lost trust because of the coverup of abuse by the clergy.

Humans are imperfect. However, our trust in the Church is not rooted in humanity. Our trust in the Church is rooted in our trust in God who leads the church through the Holy Spirit. (You may notice I am switching back and forth between a capital “C” and a lower case “c”. I do this trying to signify “church” merely as a human institution compared to “Church” as something that transcends humanity because it is God’s Church. We pray that the “church” always be what God intends as “Church.” What It Means to be a Church).

Obedience is something good. Jesus was “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). His obedience brings us salvation. God gives us commandments that are good for us. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “thy will be done.” We trust God. We seek to do his will. We pray that God leads his Church through the Holy Spirit. We pray for our church leaders to listen to the Holy Spirit. We pray for the grace we need to obey what God teaches.


Fr. Jeff

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