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Reaching your heavenly “number”
Deacon Fred Billotto on Jan 23, 2023

You may recall this ad campaign of a prominent investment firm which asked, “What’s your number”? In other words, how much money does one need to retire comfortably? How much earthly treasure does one need to be “safe”? The ad was designed to encourage potential investors to trust their retirement nest egg to the firm, which promised to help clients reach “the number.” The problem is that “the number” is hard to determine because so many — sometimes uncontrollable — factors contribute to determining it; the more we think about the number, the greater it becomes. Unless one is very wealthy, we may never believe we have enough.

One of the most challenging and, at the same time, liberating teachings of Jesus, “seek first the kingdom [of God], and his righteousness and all these things will be given you besides.” (Mt 6:33). Jesus speaks these words as part of his Sermon on the Mount immediately after teaching, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Mt 6:25) Remember, Jesus is addressing people, many of whom, according to our standards, have nothing. Jesus directs their hearts and minds away from excessive amounts of worry and labor toward building “treasures on earth” and encourages them instead “to store up treasure in heaven” that lasts for eternity. Jesus asks us all to trust him to be the Lord and leader of our lives.

There comes the point where the fruits of a lifetime of labor press us to ask: how is the Lord calling me to use my gifts and talents, how can I better store up treasure in heaven? I want to share how my friend and former coworker, Rebecca answered. Rebecca, a married mother of three, retired relatively early from a successful career in the automotive industry where she held various senior leadership roles within engineering organizations. She could have worked an additional 10 to 15 increasing the “number,” but instead, she listened to a deeper longing in her heart. Rebecca shares how she made that initial leap.

I always wanted to get more involved with the Christian services that the church enables. One Sunday after mass, I saw Deacon Fred greeting parishioners as we left the church. I mentioned that I was retired and available to help. Really, that’s all it takes. He thought and prayed for a few days and then emailed me some ideas. I thought I’d be helping my parish, but Deacon Fred asked me to contact Father Marko at Better Way Detroit. I figured; you must go where the help is needed…At Better Way Detroit (BWD), our clients are people experiencing homelessness. We provide dignity to our clients by offering them the opportunity to work for pay. Better Way Detroit engages, pays, feeds and counsels homeless persons and connects them to services for housing, medical and mental health care, and stable employment opportunities.

Rebecca now shares the skills she developed in the corporate world to lead the BWD team in growing and formalizing the organization, enabling BWD to help more people experiencing homelessness and increasing the likelihood of a successful transition to permanent employment while allowing them to achieve dignity through work.

A few ideas for taking the leap.

“My responsibilities at BWD are a fraction of those I had when I was working full-time. But I can make a significant impact with 8-10 hours a week. Suppose someone cannot completely retire but is interested in supporting a local Catholic organization. In that case, there are many opportunities to help for as much time as you have available. People can also help by influencing their employers. For example, one can solicit their corporate HR team to allow employees to donate one paid day a year to a charitable organization. If we had 200 volunteers one day a year, that would provide on-site support every day that we train our clients at one of our local partners. And, if a leader in your company also participates, that sends a powerful message to all the employees.

Another way to help is to provide support services. For example, at BWD, we need to partner with employers willing to be understanding and patient as our clients transition to a permanent work environment. This requires removing several obstacles with logistics and behavior. Business owners who can’t leave their company could help by offering employment to our clients, sponsoring fuel for the week to drive clients to work, or sponsoring lunches for a week.

What planning is required to transition from a paid career to a life of service?

Of course, you first need to understand your annual living costs and if you can sustain a safe lifestyle from your savings or retirement income. Many people do have enough money in savings to do this and don’t realize it. The second thing is to start getting involved in any way. If you engage in charitable work while employed, you are more likely to be comfortable transitioning out of paid employment. Working with Catholic services provides insight into another world that is hard to see when consumed with everyday work and family obligations. The third step to take is a wonderful leap. And begin to build up more treasure in heaven!
Everyone has a gift to share, decide what your strength is and email your church offering help.

If you’re looking for ways to serve, please contact:
Deacon Fred Billotto
Associate Director of Evangelical Charity at the Archdiocese of Detroit
[email protected]

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