Escaping the bonds of financial servitude

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Gary Pratt believes that one of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself is this: Who is your master?

This question comes straight out of the Gospel of Luke (16:13), where Jesus warns us that we cannot serve two masters, that we “cannot serve both God and money.”

The master for far too many Catholics is money, said Pratt, associate director of the archdiocesan office of stewardship and development. They are held in bondage — not to the pursuit of wealth, but to the anxiety that comes from managing money poorly.

About a year ago, said Pratt, he and some other parishioners of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa and St. Matthew Parish in Topeka took part in a pilot training program that teaches people how to manage their money in a solid, sensible, Christ-conforming way.

The program is called “The 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: Catholic Small Group Study.” It is a program of Veritas Financial Ministries, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit apostolate that seeks to equip people to manage their finances according to Catholic principles.

The founder of Veritas is Phil Lenahan, who was for years a financial executive for a Fortune 500 company. In 1995, he became the chief financial officer for Catholic Answers. While there, he developed the 7 Steps program and launched Veritas.

The 7 Steps program is quickly being instituted in several dioceses. It has received rave reviews from bishops.

“I recently reviewed ‘7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free’ and found it to be a fully Catholic perspective and practical guide on financial management, budgeting, and investing, while at the same time showing how the Catholic faith can be the base of a sound financial future,” said Archbishop Elden Curtiss of the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Local parish ministers are equally enthusiastic.

“I just got really excited about this program,” said Cathy Meis, parish coordinator of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka. “I know there are a lot of people struggling financially. I hope they will see this as an opportunity to help themselves by looking at their finances in a different way.”

Suzanne Andrews, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa and part of the 2007 pilot program, described 7 Steps as “a cross between a Bible study and personal financial planning and budgeting.” One aspect she found particularly rewarding was how it was structured for couples.

“The program has a hardcover book and workbook,” she said. “Each spouse has a workbook, which enables you to [track financial behaviors] and do Bible study on your own.”

“You don’t have to tell other people in the class how much you make, or anything personal,” she said. “The purpose of the group is to study the Bible together, encourage each other, and keep each other accountable for doing the financial homework.”

Anyone can benefit tremendously from this training, said Andrews, not just people in financial trouble.

“Every parish in the archdiocese should send someone to one of the two upcoming small group leader training sessions,” said Pratt. “And then these individuals can bring the program back to their parishes.”

Two sessions are scheduled for February — one in Lenexa; another in Topeka.

The first session will be held from 12:30 to 6 p.m. on Feb. 1 in the social room at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa. The second session will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 2 in the formation room at Most Pure Heart, Topeka.

There is no cost to attend these sessions, but space is limited, so people are encouraged to reserve their seats early. For the Lenexa session, call (913) 888-2770. For the Topeka session, call (785) 272-5590.

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