Shortly after my husband and I were married we heard a Homily on tithing that changed our lives. The priest’s Homily was on how tithing brought him to the priesthood. It was more a witness to the power of trusting God with the money and things He has given us than a sales pitch. It is easy to forget that everything we have comes from God and He gives things to us in order that we may be good stewards so that the world may be brought into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity.
This priest had worked in a job that brought in a six figure income and when he started to get the nudge to tithe he didn’t want to answer. He had gotten use to a certain standard of living and he liked being able to buy whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. This is rather ingrained in American culture and consumerism, as he pointed out. Eventually the call could no longer be ignored and he began to tithe 10% of his income. While the Catholic Church does not prescribe a set tithe amount, many people, including my husband and me, use this Old Testament practice as our marker because it does require sacrifice to choose this kind of sum. After hearing this Homily, 10% seemed reasonable for us. As time went on this priest began to give more and more generously as God used tithing to teaching him detachment. As the practice became habitual (similar to the virtues) he sensed the call to the priesthood. God had to detach him from his wealth in order to help him answer the call to the glorious vocation He had in store for him through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
My husband and I were astonished at first. We had not considered portioning off a set part of our income for the Church. We threw $20 in here and there as our families had done when we were growing up. We knew, however, after hearing this Homily that we were called to give a set amount of all of our income to the Church. It radically changed our lives and our marriage.
We learned early on that giving to the Church should hurt a bit. It is a sacrifice. It is also our obligation to fund our parish. There is not an endless amount of money coming from the Vatican to each Diocese. One of the great mistakes people make is in thinking the Church is cash rich. She is not. Her wealth comes from property and art. The money in each parish comes from those of us who are sitting in the pews. You and I keep the lights on, make sure priests are taken care of from seminary to death, and we provide all the upkeep and needs of our particular parishes. There is a reason we are kept informed of the financial status of our parish. It is our parish and requires our generous giving to survive.
I can say most fervently that my husband and I have lived and know the power of generously giving to the Church. God has taught us great trust throughout this process, as well as various forms of detachment. Father’s Homily was not just a way to drum up more money. He was revealing one of the great gifts of the spiritual life. What are some things that my husband and I have seen in our own lives?
God will not be outdone in generosity.
My husband and I began to tithe seriously when we were newly married and money was tight, since I was no longer working. We were both nervous to cut so much of our income out. It was hard at first and we had to learn to trust God. We had heard it said, and it can seem astonishing, that when we give generously God will provide. It has been absolutely true. When money has gotten tight or some unexpected expense has arisen a check has appeared whether it be a reimbursement, raise, bonus, or some other form. God has always made sure we are taken care of. He asked us to trust Him and He is taking care of us as a result. The more we trust, the more He guides us.
Tithing paves the way for greater generosity.
Tithing helps us to detach from any inordinate attachments we might have for material possessions. This can be very difficult in the West where the culture is driven by consumerism and materialism, which can be very dangerous false idols. Tithing helps us to cut back on things we don’t need. It’s not that God doesn’t want us to enjoy the gifts of this world, but an addiction to material possessions is harmful to the soul. It is to place the material above God. Tithing teaches us to focus on need and to give in love to the Church. The Church is the starting place of giving since it is an obligation for each one of us to keep the Church going. It is also within our parishes where we are nourished by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Once we detach initially and get over the pain of the first sacrifice, it becomes easier to avoid buying an item in order to give to someone in need. Life comes with suffering and often serious medical emergencies, the loss of a job, or other financial problems will arise for people we know or people within our parish communities. We may even become aware of the needs of a total stranger and be called to help them. In detaching from an inordinate need to amass things, we will discover that generosity is allowed to flow more freely and we will be in a position to help people in need out of genuine love. God will use us to help others. Rugged individualism is a largely American phenomenon that is counter to the Catholic understanding. We are intimately connected to other human beings. This means that we are called to help one another in times of need in whatever manner is possible for us. When our default position is one of giving in love it becomes easier to provide for the Church and our neighbor.
Tithing increases love.
It is apparent by now that tithing creates detachment within us, which allows God to fill the space in our hearts where we were too attached to the material aspects of this world. When we open ourselves to God and our pocket book, we are filled with a deeper love and gratitude to God. All we have comes from Him. Giving generously reminds us of this fact. We begin to center ourselves on the deepest aspects of our being when we give everything back to God in charity. God is calling us to love with our whole being even in the face of great material sacrifice. Christ makes this point in Chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel:
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.
We give our whole selves back to God when we truly give sacrificially. It isn’t about the sum. It is about how we focus on truly giving to God what we are able. The Church doesn’t have a set percentage of giving, but it should hurt. It is meant to be a sacrifice and to help us to grow in holiness. The Church is not hording away money, as many Catholics seem to mistakenly believe. She has her hands outstretched to God, just as we do. She relies on God’s generosity and our generosity. God uses us to provide for the material needs of the Church and the world around us. God also wants us to remember that we are stewards of the money and goods we have been given. We are called to use those goods wisely and for our sanctification. Detachment is a part of the spiritual life and we cannot hope to grow in holiness without it. This is an area where we should all go to God in prayer in order to discern how He is calling us to use the goods and money He has given us. God can never be outdone in generosity. All we have to do is trust Him and give everything back to Him.