My wife Maureen and I recently attended a dinner in which our bishop launched the annual diocesan fund-raising campaign. It’s become an annual “date” for us. We try to give what we can to our diocese and parish, Catholic apostolates, and worthwhile charities.
Each year we're stretched a little thinner as we support more and more “good causes.” With a modest income and several school-aged children, why do we do this?
We see it as looking out for number one, except our “number one” is not ourselves, but our Lord.
The biblical concept is tithing. In the Old Testament, tithing was a moral and spiritual obligation to make an offering to God of ten percent off the top of all the fruits of one's labors (cf. Lv 27:30). In fact, if one didn't tithe, it was considered stealing from God! (Mal 3:7-8).
Even more fundamental than the mere “accounting” aspect is the sense of generosity and piety that goes along with tithing. It's all about making the Lord the priority in one's life, as brought home so clearly in the story of the widow's mite (Lk 21:1-4). The poor widow was not a major Temple benefactor by earthly standards, but her gift was singled out for praise by the Lord because of the great love she showed in giving the little she had.
Maybe that's why my favorite birthday or Father's Day gifts tend to be the ones my children make themselves. These artistic treasures, often saved for posterity on our refrigerator or my office's walls, serve no practical purpose. What makes them valuable to me is that they represent a loving sacrifice on the part of my children, which means infinitely more than any monetary value the gifts might have.
When it comes to tithing today, the Church doesn't require that we give 10%, but we are required to support the Church through the generous use of our own time, talent, and treasure. The exact amount isn't as important as the priority and generosity that accompany the giving. The traditional 10% is a helpful, biblical measuring rod, but there's nothing preventing us from giving 15 or 20%!
Speaking for myself, I wasn't raised in a tithing home. We really valued a buck. So it has taken me a while to really soak in the Church's teaching in this area. I can say from personal experience, despite many financial obligations and the fact that I work for a non-profit apostolate rather than a fancy law firm, that the more our family has tithed, the more our Lord has provided for our every need. I shouldn't be surprised at this, because He pretty much tells us that this would be the case (cf. Mt 6:33). Yet, I still truly marvel at this reality.
Perhaps God multiplies our offerings like Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. Maybe tithing instills a right order and priority that shape all of our spending. Perhaps tithing encourages us to do without things that really aren't necessary. Or, more likely, it's a combination of all of the above.
I know Christian financial advisors whose first advice to clients who are heavily in debt is to begin to tithe, and if they won't do it, then they can't help them. Tithing is part of the solution even on a most pragmatic, worldly level.
But one thing is sure: As the saying goes, our Lord will not be outdone in generosity. Ordinarily, we are commanded not to put the Lord to the test. But when it comes to tithing and supporting the Church, Scripture invites us to put the Lord to the test (cf. Mal 3:10). Those who do are amazed at what happens.
Generosity involves much more than writing a check but Maureen and I have decided that that's not a bad place to start. I guess we're just putting our money where our hearts are.
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the editor-in-chief of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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