Giving to the Church
There is one topic that no one wants to hear about in church: money. From my experience speaking to priests, they do not want to talk about it either. Ideally, the Parish would have enough money to cover expenses, expand programs, and provide for the poor and needy. However, when we discuss money in the Church, there is something deeper going on than merely a transaction. Giving according to our means is an act of love and sacrifice.
When we give to the Church, we are providing for the material support of the Church. Without the generosity of the people, who provides for the temporal needs of the priest, keeps the lights on, pays for the bread and wine, vestments, candles, and so forth? Who ensures that the poor and needy have everything that they need? Who ensures that the pro-life ministry can give real care to women in crisis pregnancies? Who ensures that the outreach to the drug and alcohol addicts continues? We do! But that is all after our gift has been made. I want to zoom in on the action of giving, itself.
Does Tithing Mean a Tenth? What is Tithing?
When we give, intentionally, we are praying. We are obligated in love to give according to our means (“tithe”). This word tithing comes from the Anglo-Saxon teotha which means “a tenth.” Please do not get hung up on the idea of 10%, however. In the United States, for example, we have Federal and State tax, Social Security, Medicare, and insurance, before we ever see take-home pay. So, it is necessary for the head of the household to consider the needs of the family before determining what is appropriate to tithe. But the amount we give is far less important than the spirit of prayer in which we give it.
We see tithing in the Old Testament as far back as Genesis 14. Abraham has just won a battle against his enemies, and he gathers up the spoils. He then offers a tenth of it (“a tithe”) to the priest-king Melchisedech. In Genesis 28, Jacob tithes his possessions to the Lord. Under the Law of Moses, the tithe was obligatory. In the age of the Church, tithing, as a principle of giving, has been obligatory from the beginning. But exactly how tithing is done has varied throughout Church History.
In some countries, tithing does not happen. Instead, there is a Church tax or maintenance fee through the government, such as in Germany and Austria. In many countries, however, there are no laws which compel tithing. Parishes and dioceses do not have forced ten percent tithes, like in Mormonism, but tithing remains as an important part of Christian charity.
Tithing belongs to the natural and divine law. So, even if there is variation from locale to locale, the principle of giving according to one’s means remains. In fact, giving to the material needs of the Church is a precept of the Church, which is binding on all the faithful.
St. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth: “On the first day of the week [Sunday] each of you should set aside whatever he can afford (1 Cor. 16:2).” And in his second letter to that community, he writes,
“So I thought it necessary to encourage the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for your promised gift [donation], so that in this way it might be ready as a bountiful gift and not as an exaction. Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work (2 Cor. 9:5-8).”
God Loves a Cheerful Giver
As with any law of the Church, we must not follow merely out of obligation. We must be moved by the love of God, to give of ourselves with cheer. God does not want a specific amount of money from us. God wants us. He wants our cheerful gift, given from our hearts.
What is a gift? A gift is given freely. If our gift is forced upon us by the Church, or by the nation, then it is not a gift, it is extortion. Love is freely given.
Of course, tithing extends beyond only the local Parish. Perhaps there are worthy charities which serve the poor and needy that we donate to directly. Or maybe we have specific funds at the Diocese level to which we cheerfully give. Wherever our material support goes, it is an act of love given by us to God.