I remember when I was in the seminary, the Powerball Lottery got up to its highest pay out yet; 700+ Million dollars. Needless to say, I couldn’t help but stop by a gas station and buy a ticket. All of sudden, I started doing the calculations: half to taxes, hundred million to the Diocese, Catholic Schools and the Hospital; take care of my family debts; pay for my nephew and niece’s colleges… In the end, I would only keep 10 million to myself. How I came up with that number, I don’t know, but needless to say, I wanted to keep some of the winnings for myself, despite the fact that I was on my way to serving the Church and the People of God.
A similar situation occurred after becoming a priest. A rather well-off parishioner from my former parish was boasting on my behalf saying, “I bet I could offer you a million dollars and I know you would turn it down!” Little did he know of my lack of humility and how eager I would have been to take him up on his offer! Without hesitation, my mind went through the same process: support this and that ministry, give some gifts to my family, and in the end, buy myself a nice new car!
These experiences taught me something very simple: when the occasion presents itself, I do have a tendency to keep things for myself, even if I try to justify it with charity. As a result, I can now see the Church’s wisdom in the spiritual discipline of tithing. Money is a perennial temptation for all of us—“You cannot worship God and money,” (Matt 6:24) and, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:23) In tithing I have found the freedom to stop calculating where I can splurge on myself, and instead to grow in dependence upon God. Tithing gives us an opportunity to let go of our attachments and to give ourselves back to God.
Of course, tithing literally 10% of one’s income is not as doable for everyone. The financial situation in our country is only getting harder. Tithing is not meant to be a cold calculation as if God were taxing us in addition to Uncle Sam, but rather it is meant to be a response to God’s generous love. That being said, I also know from my own brokenness that we humans have a tendency to justify keeping more than we need for ourselves. Perhaps that’s why the very first beatitude is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” God has designed that the Body of Christ be built up not by Church taxes, but by the individual decisions of her members to “seek first the kingdom of God.” Regardless of which of the many beautiful Catholic movements and charities that you decide to support, may we continue to strive to be generous in building up His Kingdom so that we can say with St. Paul, “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance,” but “more than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 4:12 and 3:8)