Catholics and Finances, A Spiritual Reflection (Part 3 of 4)
HOW AND HOW MUCH ?
People will say, “Ok, but how and how much should I give?” Understand, that there is nothing in Canon Law, the Catechism, or any official Church publication or teaching about giving 5%, 2.5%, 1%, or any other percent of your income to Church or charity. You will never find any authoritative documentation to back up such a belief. It does not exist.
We are obligated to support the Church materially (monetarily), as stated in the “Precepts of the Church.” But beyond this initial obligation, there are no rules when it comes to your giving. You have total freedom.
“Tithing” seems like a foreign and unhelpful concept to many Catholics. They’ll say,
“A percentage doesn’t help me: I’m looking for a process of reasoning to help me consistently find a proper dollar amount each year, so I don’t feel anxious about giving too much or much too little. Knowing myself, I feel anxious very easily and I might have reasonable doubts at my ability to tithe and, even when I do tithe, I might worry that I haven’t given enough.”
“It is determining the nature and validity of these doubts on which I seek counsel.”
One Catholic source, in fact, wrote that,
The Roman Catholic Church does not teach tithing. The Vatican does not. The Catechism does not. No papal document or encyclical requires Catholics to tithe. It is simply bizarre that ANY Catholics discuss tithing at all.
Personally, I (Fr. Zlock) find that comment a bit to strong in one direction. Certainly, no set amount or percentage of income is dictated. But we can first start with the Scriptures as a basis. Each Christian:
- “Should give, then, as they have decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
- “If you are eager to give, God will accept your gift on the basis of what you have to give, not on what you don’t have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
One guide sometimes mentioned is to give some prayerfully discerned percentage of your income to the Church, and the same percentage to charity each month. This is a suggestion ONLY. Nothing more. No Catholic is obligated to follow such a thing in any way. Such suggestions on giving are occasionally spoken by Bishops (though very seldom). They are not morally binding on Catholics at all. It is entirely up to you whether you wish to follow it or not.
Another simple formula (based on 10%), to which you can base your giving on is to provide:
- 5% to your parish
- 1% to the diocese
- 4% in time/talents to your parish or other charitable organizations.
Tithing (or Normal Giving) vs. Sacrificial Giving – What’s the Difference?
Tithing or “Normal Giving” is how God designed it so that the church and the ministries are funded. Normal Giving is how we acknowledge God’s ownership and our stewardship of God’s resources, and how we acknowledge God’s place and provision in our lives. Normal Giving is the minimal level of acknowledgement of God in our life. I read one commentator who said: “I concluded long ago that if I did not tithe, I would be saying that God is not first in my heart. Something else is.”
In contrast, “Sacrificial Giving” is and has always been a mechanism for redemption for God’s people – redemption of others and themselves from captivity. Sacrificial Giving (above the tithe) is God’s mechanism to provide for the chronic poor, the orphan, the widow and those who are in short term need. To look deeper into the “sacrificial giving” — and why anyone would feel compelled to give to this level. I found some interesting ideas on the Generous Giving website. I also found another good explanation on the Free Money Finance website in the following question and answer:
What is sacrificial giving, and why is it important?
It is possible to give without suffering any loss. Indeed, we do this all the time. When a family donates a bag of old clothes to the Salvation Army, or when a multibillionaire gives an impressive-sounding six-figure contribution, they feel no loss because it is in their best interest to discard those things anyway.
Strictly speaking, in the words of author Randy Alcorn, this is not giving at all but “selective disposal.” Also, understand – this kind of giving is fine (it is certainly better than throwing old clothes or money away), but there is nothing distinctively Christian about it.
Even in the Old Testament, King David recognized this difference when he insisted, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). Sacrificial giving is the kind that is done at great personal cost to the giver. The one great biblical example of generosity is Jesus’ gift of himself to make atonement for sins, which was done at unimaginable cost to the giver (1 John 3:16). Obviously, our greatest sacrifices are not even in the same league with Jesus’ unique sacrifice. But we Christians are imitators of our Lord, and for that reason we give our very best, that which it pains us to lose.
Whether we are rich OR poor. You can’t buy your way into Heaven. A person could own the entire world and give very little, and God would still be happy with that, if such giving is done out of freedom and love. Along these lines, Mother Theresa once said: “It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.” She also said: “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
In summary, Catholics are not restricted in their giving to the Old Testament understanding of tithing. Instead they are to be challenged by New Testament guidelines, which describe giving as:
- Proportional to one’s income (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:12)
- Consistent (1 Corinthians 16:2)
- Sacrificial (Mark 12:43-44; 2 Corinthians 8:2-3)
- Cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Christians should live open-handed and generously, acknowledging that they are merely stewards of God’s creation and that all things come from God
Next week we will look at Catholic giving on a “macro” level by examining “Catholic Philanthropy.”