Why I Don’t Participate in the Parish Fiesta


The Problems with Parish Fiestas

These fiestas require a lot of work to put on—selling tickets and promoting, organization and security, cooking and selling food, set up and clean up, and so much more. In my experience it is three days of hell. In most cases it is the same small group of people who participate each year and each year it gets more and more difficult. The work is back-breaking and it is not easy to find people to volunteer. Most people who have helped out in the past will never do it again, myself included.

Despite the hard work and the seemingly large amounts of money earned from the raffle and food sales, the net profit of such a large event is actually not as much as you’d expect. I can’t share numbers here, but percentage-wise the profit is around 25%. That is like selling your home so you can buy a car—not the best financial decision. The point is that it costs so much to put on that most of the profit goes to pay for supplies and vendors.

What concerns me even more than the hard work and the small gain is the example that we as a parish are setting for the community. In our case the music, which draws quite a bit of people to the event, is not exactly leading anyone to holiness. I don’t care how transformative the homily was at mass, as soon as you step outside of the church all is forgotten after laying eyes and ears on the fiesta. We are called to be the light of the world, a city on a hill, a beacon to the lost. Yet, the example that we put on during the parish fiesta negates all of the hard work of evangelization that we strive to live up to.

My Solution: A Vision of Outreach

It is one thing for us to meet people where they are, but that doesn’t mean we should lay aside our morals, values, and most of all our faith in God for the sake of a few dollars. Essentially, what we are saying is that we value money more than the souls of the people in our communities. Are we willing to be something other than what we are in order to make a profit?

In my opinion the only reason to put on a parish fiesta should be for outreach. This completely changes everything. We open the doors of our parish to the outside world, those who most likely don’t normally come to Mass. We still have fun and food, but make a serious effort to reach these people for Christ. Every one of the volunteers, from those selling tickets and food, to the musicians and volunteers should all have the goal of serving with a smile on their faces and joy in the heart, sharing the love of Christ. The music would invite people to enter into praise and adoration of God. The purpose is evangelization, introducing them to Jesus in a way that they most likely have never experienced.

When Jesus said: “You are the light of the world.” (Mt 5:14), I don’t think he meant that drivers passing down the boulevard should see the bright lights of ferris wheels and carnival rides. I think what He meant is that by the example of our lives people would be inspired, attracted, called to join our communities. That’s what outreach is really all about. It is to bring the presence of Christ to the world.

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-17

That is definitely not the end in mind for the majority of parish fiestas. It’s all about the money at any cost. However, I think that if we made our mission statement more closely match the mission that Jesus gave His disciples, we’d be much better off. After all, that mission is the mission of the Church. She exists to evangelize.

Can you imagine your parish fiesta less like the state fair and more like an open house night at your local elementary school? Doors would be open to the world, letting the light shine in the darkness. Information booth could be set up to answer questions people might have about receiving the sacraments and questions about Catholic teaching and we could even have prayer stations where we personally pray for the intentions of those who request it. We could hand out rosaries and pamphlets on devotions to the Divine Mercy. Free bibles could be given out with a schedule to the weekly parish bible studies and faith formation programs. We could actually celebrate the patron saint of the parish with talks and reflections on their life and teachings. Special prayers could be recited and their intercession could be invoked.

This is a more Christian vision of what our parish fiestas should be. This is the kind of fiesta that I would be more than willing to participate in. But until this becomes our mission, I’ll pass on the parish fiesta.

Fundraising: A Better Approach

But what about raising money for our parishes? Well, I’m so glad you asked. Churches—I’m talking Catholic parishes here—aren’t businesses, they are actually 501(c)3 non-profit organizations, at least when it comes to federal law. That means they shouldn’t necessarily be run like businesses. I think if we ran our parishes like the communities of faith that they are we would do much good.

In the Old Testament it was taught to give a tithe—or the first 10% of what you earn—back to the Church. When Abraham encounters the priest Melchizedek and receives his blessing, he gives him “a tenth of everything” (Gn 14:20). For some reason Catholics aren’t very adamant about following this example of Biblical generosity. We aren’t always very welcoming of God when it comes to our wallets. Well, He Himself has some pretty strong words in that regard.

Can anyone rob God? But you are robbing me! And you say, “How have we robbed you?” Of tithes and contributions! You are indeed accursed, for you, the whole nation, rob me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, That there may be food in my house. Put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, And see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you, and pour down upon you blessing without measure!

Malachi 3:8-10

Bet you’ve never heard that passage before. It’s from an obscure little prophetic book at the end of the Old Testament called Malachi. So, where were we? Oh, yes were talking about the fact that Catholics are very poor about teaching people to tithe. This is the root of the issue when it comes to fundraising in the Catholic Church. Instead of corrupting our parishes with worldly fiestas, attempting to entice people to give us their money instead of inviting them to life-change, perhaps we could teach the people in the pews to be more generous with the blessings God has given them.

Some might say that there is no official Church teaching that says we should give a certain percent of our income. This is true. However, as Father Larry Richards is very fond of pointing out, in the Old Testament there was a tithe of 10%, but in the New Testament Jesus commands us to give up everything. Remember the rich young man? He tells Jesus he has followed all of the commandments, but wants to know what else he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus words are telling.

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Matthew 19:21

Ah, yes it’s true. Jesus wants us to be generous, detached from money. Not that it’s bad to work, earn a living, and provide for our family, but to remember that everything we have is a blessing and we should be encouraged to share those blessings especially with the Church, ’cause remember we are the Church. Selling votive candles and requiring donations for wedding Masses isn’t getting us anywhere. If you can’t tell I’m not a big fan of those practices either.

So when it comes to raising money for legitimate needs in the parish, my attitude is, preach the Gospel. Teach people the truth, what God tells us in the Bible. Invite people into a real, intimate relationship with Jesus and I guarantee you will see those collection baskets filling up a lot more quickly without inviting in all the negativity that comes with a parish fiesta.

Regaining Our Identity as Communities of Faith

When you look at the description of the early Church after the Resurrection of Jesus, we see something that for most of us seems like a memory of bygone days, an ancient version of the Church that can no longer exist in our modern world. Here’s what we find.

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47

I truly believe that when we stop trying to commercialize the Church, we start to become more like what the early Church was. We’ll start to see the love of God alive in our brothers and sisters. We’ll begin to see power of God at work in our lives and the lives of those around us. We’ll become the holy men and women we’re called to be. And with all of that, we’ll also become more generous. There won’t be any need to put on huge fundraising events, because the needs of all will be taken care of.

Question: What do you think? Do you participate in your parish fiesta? Do you have a different point of view about what the parish fiesta is and how it can serve the mission of outreach without compromising our Catholic faith?