Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"God will provide"

A blogger posted the following: “Does tithing include time, talent & treasure(money)? How should a Catholic Christian distribute treasure? We help support 2 families who live below the poverty income level (groceries, rent money, clothing). They have fallen into hard times due to illness and the other family -dad desertion. If we continue to help these families, we feel like our tithing seems too minimal. Is our first priority to give a certain percentage to the church and then help others? We live on a budget and we are not sure what to do.......If we had more funds, we could do it all and still pay our bills. Yet we must apportion the funds. What is the right way to do it?”

Great question, blogger, and great job!! Tithe means literally “one-tenth”, and usually refers to the percentage of one’s income that is offered to God through the Church. One of the primary foundations for tithing is found in Genesis 14:20 where Abram gave “a tenth of everything” to the priest, Melchizedek. The letter to the Hebrews confirms the significance of this account: “see how great he is to whom the patriarch ‘Abraham gave a tenth’ of his spoils” (7:4). There are many other biblical references to tithing. I found an online article which lists many of them; please click on the title of this post to view the article.

There are other spiritual and practical points about tithing in the article that are helpful, especially in answering the questions of the blogger. There is also a workbook that I haven’t read but which received good reviews from a solid Catholic newspaper. “The Catholic Answers Guide to Family Finances” by Philip Lenahan “helps people build their finances on a foundation of faith” (National Catholic Register, Feb ‘05).

I remember reading that Catholics give about 1% of their gross income to the Church; Protestants give about twice as much. Some people view their children’s tuition to Catholic schools as part of tithing, so that percentage would go up if that is to be factored in. I remember what Fr. Wells once said: ‘if every Catholic gave 3% of their income, Catholic education would be free’. The point is that we should give to the Church in generosity and trust. If we gave more generously, the Church would then be more able to pool our donations and provide more adequate services, one of which would be free education in our schools.

During the five years that I was working in sales, I abided by the old formula that Cardinal Hickey once proposed: 5% (of gross income) to the parish, 4% to charities, and 1% to the Cardinal’s Appeal (which provides for local Catholic charities). Obviously, I didn’t have children for whom I needed to provide (but was thinking at that time that I might be preparing to raise a family in the future). I made good money, but not huge money. But, during the time I tithed and through God’s generosity, I was able to buy a house, invest in mutual funds, and put away money for retirement. The old adage that “God is never outdone in generosity” was a recurring thought during those days, especially.

I really do believe that the more we give, the more we receive. It’s kind of like keeping holy the Sabbath: people who work only six days in order to rest on the Sabbath are usually more productive than when they worked seven days. It’s the same with tithing: people who have increased their giving have found more financial prosperity than before. A big part is that God rewards generosity (he does offer investment returns of thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold!). But, another big part is the whole idea of prioritizing our expenses so that we are good stewards of all that God has given us. In other words, we eliminate expenses which really aren’t necessary and don’t work toward building up the Kingdom.

Please think back to the story of the widow who gave two coins. She gave all that she had; the rich people gave from their surplus. She gave when it hurt to give; they gave what was comfortable to give. Each one of us can ask ourselves, ‘do I give when it hurts to give or am I only giving what is comfortable to give?’ We probably do more of the latter than the former because we want to be “financially secure”. But, when we, as Abraham taught us, trust that “God will provide” and give to Him even when it hurts, we find something more meaningful than financial security: spiritual, moral, and personal security.

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