By Bishop Karl Prüter
Saint Willibrord Press 1968
Last night I attended a social affair at the Boylston School Society, and I was much interested in observing the free spenders.
At a table next to mine, there were several couples that engaged in a spirited struggle every time the waitress came with the check. They all wanted to pay, either out of a spirit of generosity or perhaps because they didn’t want to be freeloaders.
You know what I mean by freeloader. That’s the fellow who always manages to out-fumble the other fellow for the check. He is always going to pay the next one but the next one never comes.
He manages to go through life with a minimum of effort. He may even live with his folks or his in-laws, supposedly sharing expenses but it is always someone else who pays the lion’s portion.
Of course, no one can feel anything but contempt or pity for the freeloader. Even the freeloader doesn’t like to have his habits known and usually rationalizes that he is a pretty generous soul. He can remember every check he ever paid and heaven help you if you if he ever gave you a gift.
The fact is we all like to pay our own way and feel that we owe no man anything.
It can’t always be that way though, for as we go through life there are those who have given us a helping hand and whom we could never repay. Parents, teachers, and friends often have given us so much that we can never repay them directly. All that we can do is to try to be as helpful to others as others have been to us.
Yet this is a principle that is so well understood that it has become a good part of the motivation of modern charity. A man who received a small scholarship when he was going through college is apt to give the scholarship fund four times the amount in order that he might pay his debt to past generations through giving to future generations.
However, in the spiritual area we have many freeloaders. Let me illustrate what I mean by telling you about a parishener I met many years ago.
This woman volunteered to teach in the church school and since I knew she was engaged in many, many activities I asked her if she could afford the time.
She said, “Frankly no but I don’t like to be a freeloader.” Then she explained what she meant.
She said that she had not done anything for the church for quite a few years. She didn’t go very often because she felt she didn’t need it. In fact, she said that she felt spiritually very self sufficient. Then one day, she realized how she became so self sufficient. She had gone to a church that someone long dead had built, served by a pastor who was someone else’s child, been taught by a score of church school teachers, and received all kinds of moral and religious instruction from the past generation.
Now she was self sufficient but deeply in debt to others.
She hadn’t even bothered to find out if the church was still able to do this for the coming generation. She wasn’t teaching in the church school, she wasn’t building new churches, she wasn’t giving any sons to the priesthood, in fact, she was doing nothing at all to rebuild the spiritual treasury from which she had drawn her own self sufficiency.
She told me, “Even though I don’t feel a need for the church, I feel I owe something that I can only repay through the church.”
“And,” so she went on, “I realized that someday I might spend more thaN I received and need to come again to the church. When that time comes I want to feel I am not taking out without having put something in.”
She ended with this thought, “It is strange that whereas once my self sufficiency caused me to wander from the church, today it compels me to return. For the more self sufficient I feel, the more indebted I feel.”
This woman gave of herself in a very remarkable way. She not only taught church school but she made her home the center of many of the church activities. Untold numbers of women found her a real pillar of strength in times of trouble. I wonder how many will feel indebted to future generations because of what they have received from her?
Even those who decry religion in the 20th century are products of nearly 2,000 years of effort on the part of the church to raise the moral standards of mankind.
But for Christianity, the atheist shouting in Hyde Park or Union Square might be the modern equivalent of the galley slave that marked the pre-Christian society.
Each man and woman must ask himself or herself,”What is my contribution to the church? Will I use a church and never have a part in building a new one? Will I accept what I have learned from my teachers and never teach? Will I attend Mass, Sunday after Sunday, and not help make it possible, through my gifts, for others to hear Mass?” And finally, “Will I always ask others to pray for me, and never offer prayer for others?”
Selfishly I remind you that the priest is always praying for others, but who prays for the priest? The church too is praying for others; remember the church in your prayers. For in the words of Scripture, “Freely have you received – freely give!”