The Value of Religion

For Sunday, September 25, 2016, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

What contribution does the practice of religion make to our society?

Many would say that it provides a moral code that inspires people to look beyond themselves to the needs of others. Others might argue that faith provides meaning to those who might otherwise despair over the challenges of life. Still others might argue that faith does no good at all but only creates divisions that perpetuate strife and violence.

A new study seeks to put a price tag on the contribution of religion to the economy as a whole. It estimates that the goods and services provided by churches, synagogues, mosques, and other faith-based communities totals 1.2 trillion dollars. Putting that staggering figure in perspective, Christopher White, in an article posted on
Crux, writes, “Impressively, this figure is more than the top ten tech companies combined—including Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Or, put in another perspective, if that figure was measured in GDP, U.S. religion would be the 15th largest national economy in the world.”

Faith-based charities provide an enormous service to those who would otherwise not be served by government programs. This would include not only congregations but faith-based institutions such as the Knights of Columbus whose nearly two million members provide relief to the poor members of their communities. It would also include parish-based groups such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which serves the poor after the example of their founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

On a larger scale, Catholic Charities provides disaster relief and resources to lift people out of poverty. Catholic schools educate children of all faiths, many of whom are poor, preparing them to be more productive citizens. Some twenty percent of all hospitals in the United States are Catholic Health Care Facilities reaching underserved communities and providing free services to those who would otherwise go without.

As people of faith, not only should we feel proud of the accomplishments of our brothers and sisters, we should also not be ashamed to tell the world about it. Though the tax exempt status of religious groups and nonprofits is always being challenged, we can confidently assert that society receives much more in goods and services from people of faith than it would if it were to tax our institutions out of existence.

Furthermore, when the government seeks to force groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to use their resources to fight off burdens to their religious liberty such as the HHS mandate, it diverts time, energy, and money that could be better used to assist those who are suffering.

As Pope Francis reminds us, “The Church is not an NGO.” Our ultimate value is not in the goods and services we provide but in our witness to Jesus Christ. All the good works that flow from faith are a response to Jesus’ call to serve the poor, as we hear in today’s readings. Though we might be able to put a dollar value on the goods and services provided by people of faith, the witness to the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ is beyond measure.?

Douglas Sousa, STL


Lord God,
we marvel at your goodness and generosity.
You provide us with this vast universe
and all its wonders.
Just as you have provided for us
you call us to provide for one another.
May we ever be mindful of those who go without,
especially those at our doorstep.
May our desire for comfort
never keep us from comforting others.
May our search for riches
never make us impoverish them.
But keep our arms free to embrace the poor
and our hearts open to loving them
as you have loved us.
Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

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