When I Win the Lottery

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

So I was driving around one day recently, taking care of some errands, when I decided to stop in the local convenience store and buy a PowerBall ticket.

I don’t buy lottery tickets very often – only when the prize reaches $100 million or more. Seems to me that anything less than that wouldn’t be worth the effort to collect. I made an exception this time, though since the estimated jackpot was $96 million. Close enough.

Funny how God sends us not-too-subtle signals once-in-awhile. Later that same day, while celebrating Holy Mass, these words appeared in the Gospel: “Amen I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:23) “I’ll take my chances and deal with the consequences later,” I said to myself during my private meditation.

The first problem I’d face in winning $100 million or more is what to do with the money. Nice problem to have, isn’t it?

Unlike some major jackpot winners, I wouldn’t quit my job. After all, the priesthood’s not just a job; it’s a vocation, something the Lord Himself has called me to do. I don’t think the holy Apostles, the heroic martyrs and great missionaries ever worried about their salary or benefits. And besides, if I quit working, what would I do all day?

If I were to win the lottery it certainly wouldn’t change my lifestyle, what little lifestyle I have. I don’t like expensive, fancy, things; I’m not a collector; I don’t like lots of junk cluttering my home or my life. As my friends will tell you – with some embarrassment – my taste in clothes, personal effects and home furnishings is very simple. “Tacky” some would say.

And if I were to win the lottery I probably wouldn’t buy an expensive vacation home somewhere. Really, how much time do I have for vacation? And do I want to be bothered with upkeep and supervision of a home somewhere that I wouldn’t be able to use very often? As I type this, though, I fantasize about the possibility of buying a nice little condo in Sanibel that I could use on occasion and rent the rest of the year. But then, what would I do with that money?

If I were to win the lottery, I’d surely put some money away for my retirement, but even that’s an iffy proposition. Who knows if or when I’ll ever retire. Bishops can’t retire until at least the age of 75 and if I live that long – and that’s a huge “if” in my case – my needs will be even simpler (“tackier”) than they are now.

So, I reached the conclusion a long time ago that if I were to win the lottery I’d end up giving most of the money away. But, in case you’re one of the hopeful recipients of my largesse, this next sentence is very important: I won’t give any money to anyone who asks or even hints for a gift. If you ask or hint, you’re off the list! I figure this restriction would be the only way to prevent me from being constantly harassed and swamped with requests once my winnings were published. Without a doubt I’d have lots of new friends. And who knows, there might even be some little vixen out there who’d want to marry me for my money. Sorry, sweetheart... I’m spoken for.

But, I digress. If I win the lottery the distribution of my new-found wealth will be at my sole discretion. And it might be somewhat capricious. I’d love to have lots of money to give away. I could do so much good, solve so many problems, make so many people happy. I’d enjoy being one of those eccentric old guys you read about once-in-awhile who wanders the street giving away $100 bills as random acts of kindness.

I might give some money to members of my family, although my siblings are too old to need it and my nieces and nephews already have more money than I do. I have lots of friends who could use some help; I’ll have to check my Christmas card list to see who the really faithful friends have been.

I’d probably give most of my winnings to established charities, perhaps some worthwhile charities in the community, but especially charities in the Catholic Church. I know how much good the Church does, how careful it is with its resources, and how great the needs are. I’m always amazed by and so grateful for the very generous people who support the Church, sometimes with sincere little “widow’s mite” gifts, sometimes with very large and generous gifts.

Oh well, how to give the money away would be a nice problem to have, and it’s a fun thing to think about. And if I don’t win the lottery someday, I hope you do. For the sake of the record, and if your distribution rule’s the same as mine, I’m not asking for any of your money ... I’m not even hinting. Really, I don’t want to bother you.

I think there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll win the lottery someday. That why I changed the title of this article from “If I Win the Lottery” to “When I Win the Lottery.” That’s how confident I am. Of course, the Patriots thought they’d win the Super Bowl this year too. At least I still have a chance.

This article was previously published in The Rhode Island Catholic February 3, 2011.