“We have often noted that we do not become a Christian on our own, but by being born and nurtured in the faith in the midst of the People of God, that is the Church. She is a true mother who gives us life in Christ.” (Pope Francis)
It seems to me that the words of Pope Francis describe a truth that most Catholics have experienced throughout the course of our lives — that the Church is our spiritual mother who gives us birth, nourishes us with the life of Christ, and then leads us to eternal life in heaven.
As our Holy Father suggests, to be authentic Christians we need the Church – we need the teachings of the Church that lead us to the truth; we need the sacraments of the Church that only the Church can give us; and we need the support of a community that shares our vision and our values, a community that walks with us in good times and in bad, in moments of joy and sorrow, success and failure, life and death.
In appreciation for the life-giving grace of the Church, Catholics have the obligation to support the Church — with prayer, personal involvement and, yes, financial gifts. Most active and faithful Catholics are mindful of their duty to support the Church financially, and do so very generously in a variety of ways throughout their lives. But Catholics should also remember the Church at the time of their death, with a final gift, as they pass from this life to the eternal life which the Church has helped them attain. This remembrance can happen in a couple of obvious ways.
The first is to direct memorial gifts at the time of passing – at our own death, or at the death of a loved one — to the Church. It is a devout practice that Catholics should lovingly embrace.
I’m often bemused in reading obituaries — which I do more frequently as I grow older — to find something like this: “Mary was a devoted Catholic and a member of St. Thomas of Pittsburgh Parish for 93 years. She was a graduate of St. Thomas Elementary School and High School. She was a daily communicant, and had a beautiful devotion to the Infant of Prague and our Blessed Mother. Mary was always involved in the life of her parish. She was a religious education teacher for 58 years, a Minister of Holy Communion, President of the Women’s Club, a member of the Parish Finance Council and a Parish Trustee. Gifts in Mary’s memory may be given to the ‘Save the Water Buffalo Foundation.’”
“What?” I say to myself. If the Catholic Church, and her parish in particular were so important and life-giving to Mary, wouldn’t it be appropriate to have memorial gifts be designated for the Church as a tribute to Mary’s life-long faith? Now, don’t get me wrong. The “Save the Water Buffalo Foundation” might be a very fine charity, worthy of support, but what about the Church that was the center of Mary’s universe?
The other way in which the Church can be remembered at the time of death is, of course, by a designated gift in a last will and testament. Throughout the ages the Church has benefited from the gifts of thoughtful and generous Catholics who gave something of their earthly treasure to the Church at the time of passing. These special gifts, large or small, enhance the ordinary income of the Church and provide more financial security so that the saving work of the Church can continue for our children and grandchildren.
When we decide to remember the Church, there are several avenues for our donations. For example, gifts can be designated for the charitable work of the Diocese, and its many ministries and services; to a favorite Catholic parish or school; or to a Catholic institution or organization that has helped you and your family along the way.
Why is it so good and prudent to remember the Catholic Church in your final plans? Well, because the Church is a divine institution, founded by Jesus Christ to bring salvation to the world. Because the Church has existed for two-thousand years and will continue to exist until the end of time. Because the Church sponsors a variety of spiritual, charitable, educational and pastoral activities that benefit members of the Church as well as the wider community. And because the Church is a responsible, respectable, stable organization that is accountable and transparent in the use of its resources.
There are, of course, many secular charities that are worthy of your support. But in the times in which we are living, when religious practice is in decline, we need to make a concerted effort to remember the Church that has been so good to us and support it with our final gifts.
Giving to the Church at the time of death is a good and noble and holy thing to do. It is a sign of your love for Christ and His Church; it is a lasting testament to your faith; and it is a source of God’s grace and blessing for you.
Pope Francis has reminded us that the Church is a “true mother who gives us life in Christ.” So, dear friends, at the time of your passing, or that of a loved one, please remember your mother, the Church. God will bless and reward you.