The fifth commandment of the Church
To contribute to the support of our pastors
Fr Tomasz Pelszyk
The last commandment is very brief but it embraces a wide spectrum of issues that cannot be presented here in detail. Above all, we should reflect on the concept of the Church. We know that it defines a community of believers, baptised, united with Christ as their head, living in accordance with the principles of faith, in the spirit of love for God and neighbour. In a wider sense we understand Church as embracing people who want or could belong to it although at the moment they are not part of the community (they are preparing to receive Baptism or they have not heard about Christ yet, or although having been baptised they consciously and willingly broke the relationship with Christ and the Church). However, the content of the fifth commandment does not exclude anyone from the circle of love. We should briefly speak about several spheres of 'the contribution to the needs of the community of the Church'.
Concern for spiritual good of man
First of all, it embraces the enormous field of proclaiming the Good News to the baptised (this is catechesis, teaching related to the sacraments, mainly during sermons and homilies according to the command of the Apostle, 'proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching') and to the non-baptised ('faith comes from what is heard'). This duty is a simple translation of God's desire to save every person into the language of deeds. We are all to be found in the salvific circle of Love.
Here we have an extremely difficult action aiming at preserving and strengthening moral order in the world, which presumes constant convincing and justifying that the earthy order is not the only and most important one but it is undoubtedly the way to heaven and eternal life. So there is also the duty to convince the world of 'sin', 'justice' and 'judgement'. All these matters will find their proper sense when they are rooted in the truth about Divine Providence and Mercy.
Naturally, this concern is the field of the pastoral ministry of the clergy but laymen have a great role to play here as well. Not to be groundless: parents will not stop being 'the first teachers of faith' to their children - this is their privilege and duty; believers will always have the possibility to influence their collaborators so that all people fulfil their responsibilities with honesty and in the spirit of love; a healthy judgement of community concerning worthy and unworthy behaviour will always be more important than the best human law - 'one must not steal', 'one must not commit adultery', 'one must not give false witness' (God's law is inscribed in human hearts).
Here it is worth remembering the so-called deeds of mercy for the soul so that we can understand better that this kind of actions is nothing extraordinary and everyone can do it (no one can say he has not heard about it). Although these actions are not anything special their consequences are sometimes really miraculous: spiritual healing (for example after a good confession), a new desire to live (because of simple words of encouragement and solidarity in pain and disaster), joy flowing from victories over temptations (it turns out something could be done!), awareness that you are not alone (visit of neighbours), shame leading to salvation (resulting from a mild but firm reprimand directed to a sinner).
The concern for the spiritual matters ends when Christ's salvation reaches all peoples and nations (on the basis of our experience we know it that this will be fulfilled at the end of the world). It is important to see the wonderful role of prayer groups that create the foundation for all effective activities.
Concern for material needs of the Church
Here we look at the unchangeably wonderful practice of the ancient Church (e.g. the texts of the Acts of the Apostles give testimonies), which commanded to bring ordinary gifts to Mass; some part of the gifts were for Mass and the rest was distributed to those in need. The awareness of human poverty made the Fathers of the Church, following the example of Christ himself, to consider 'which rich can be saved'. It was clearly shown that material goods were given to people in order to be distributed to those in need. This was a duty. And additionally, the poor do a favour to those who give. This corresponds to the words of the Acts 'It is more blessed to give than to receive' (Acts 20:35), which John Paul II chose as the motif of his message for Lent. The concern is valid until there are poor people. On the other hand, Christ assures us that there will always be poor people among us. The question we need to ask ourselves concerns the place we choose to be. Do I stand among those who 'should give' or among those who are poor and 'should receive'? When hardships are common it occurs that deeds of mercy for the flesh are not odd. It is interesting to see (but what makes us wonder) that the least well off have their virtue of 'giving' most developed (to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty,...). Naturally, there are many well-off people who fulfil the will of Christ in a perfect way.
There are also various church associations that bring help to the needy. The Caritas centres play a leading role. However, it is worth remembering that parishes, fraternities and ecclesiastical associations have brought help for ages. It would be difficult to name them all. The question we should ask concerns our involvement in helping the Church and concrete people.
Concern for church building, diocese and universal Church
The words are not precise but we mean mainly the external shape of buildings and centres. The communist times taught us that it was the parish priest that had to support the church building, parish building and catechetical halls. When we live in democracy it is hard to convince the faithful to get involve in decision-making process and taking on the responsibility for construction and renovations of the buildings of the parishes. The situation varies in parishes. Nevertheless, the Church tries to make this concern something common and ordinary by creating parish councils.
An expression of our involvement is: taking interest in the condition of the buildings, eagerly helping in various practical ways (cleaning the cemetery, cleaning the building of our church), giving collection (this is not priest's property and saying that 'I will not give the priest since he is rich anyway' is without any sense); moreover, we should pay attention whether children and young people give even small amounts of money - if they do not do it they will never learn to be generous), and remember about regular contributions, etc. All things that apply to the parish apply to the diocese and the whole Church. Thus we support the initiatives of the local bishop or the Holy Father; we help to build churches, hospitals, and schools in missionary countries. The most essential thing is always to give 'from the heart', without being forced and hurried.
The above-mentioned reflections on the commandments of the Church are only an attempt to introduce the important issues for the Church at the beginning of the third millennium. Those who are interested in such issues can see the bibliography in Polish:
1. Katechizm Kosciola Katolickiego, Poznan 2002 (wyd. Pallottinum)
2. Katechizm dla doroslych, Krakow 1999 (wyd. WAM)
3. Breviarium Fidei. Wybor doktrynalnych wypowiedzi Kosciola, Poznan 1988 (wyd. Sw. Wojciecha)
4. List apostolski "Dies Domini" Ojca Swietego Jana Pawla II do Biskupow, Kaplanow i Wiernych o swietowaniu niedzieli, Watykan 1998 (wyd. Libreria Editrice Vaticana).