Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Precepts of The Church 3: Tithing


 Normally, I have an obnoxious need to do these things in order, but as the Gospel is the Widow’s Mite this week (Mark 12:38-44), I will tie in this precept of the Church with the readings for this week.  The Code of Canon Law states: “The Christian Faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for apostolic works and works of charity and for the decent sustenance of ministers.  They are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources.” (Canon 222, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2043.2)

    Before the canon is broken down, it is important to understand from where this comes.  In the Old Testament, there were two basic types of sacrifice: the sin/peace offering and the thanksgiving sacrifice.  The sin/peace offering was always the best of one’s herds or flocks and was done to seal a covenant (peace) or because of sin.  The Sacrifice of Jesus of the Cross ended the need for such a sacrifice to be redone and every Mass is a direct participation in this one sacrifice. The thanksgiving offering was the offering of the first fruits of one’s labors as an act of thanksgiving.  The tithe was holy to the Lord (holy meaning set apart for God‘s use) (see Leviticus 27:30), was to be dispersed between the needy and for the sustenance of those whose duty it is to serve God (see Deuteronomy 14:22-29). So evil was it to withhold the tithe that the Prophet Malachi refers to it as stealing from God (Malachi 3: 9-11), an act which carries a curse with it.  While the sin/peace offering was abrogated by the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, the thanksgiving sacrifice was not.  The New Testament refers to alms-giving multiple times as an act of mercy that benefits both the receiver and the giver.  Alms-giving is an act of mercy that reflects the love of God being actively mimicked by His followers.

    Let us break down the code:

“The Christian faithful (those baptized) are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church”.  This speaks to a larger fact that mercy is not a special addition to the life of a Christian, but a core identity.  This also speaks to the fact that the Church has a mission and duty which must be assisted.  To both ensure these things are done and those who do it are given what they need, the Church, building upon the Scriptures themselves, keep consistent the call for the thanksgiving sacrifice (tithe) for the same exact reason as seen in the Bible.

1. “for divine worship” The Christian Faithful are obliged to assist in those things necessary for worship.  This is a long list that includes buildings, vessels, vestments, bread, wine, and so on that are used in the worship of God.  In this would also be the upkeep of said items.

2. “for apostolic works”  These would refer to the things a parish is to do: educate, evangelize, form, and provide spiritual opportunities for spiritual growth for both her parishioners and the community at large.  Our school, education programs, evangelization efforts, and things of this nature would fall under this category.  Again, the Christian faithful are obliged by the giving of time, talent, and treasure, to ensure the work gets done.

3. “and works of charity”  The help of the poor and those who are in need are also to be tended to by one’s tithe and volunteering.  The Church and each of her members are always supposed to be actively looking to the needs of others in the same exact way the Jesus did.  The Catholic Church is still the biggest giver of charity and assistance in the world.  It was the Catholic Church that brought us and invented institutions such as hospitals, colleges and universities, hospice, orphanages, and other institutions that are hallmarks of western civilization.  We are not allowed to be the rich man who ignores Lazarus at the gate.  The giving of our resources and time so as to help those in need are seen as central to the Catholic life.

4. “and for the decent sustenance of ministers”  While no one should grow rich working for the Church (and in this country they do not), the wages of those who work for the church are taken from the tithe.  Why?  I, as a priest, am supposed to give myself completely over to the service of Church; I, and all other priests, are forbidden to own businesses or take secular jobs.  The same is true for all clerics.  Furthermore the execution of the apostolic works requires staff (teachers, administration, for example).  The ability of the parish to properly staff so as to execute these duties well is wholly dependent upon what comes in with the tithe.

    When the tithe is withheld, it constrains the ability to the parish and diocese to go about the mission of the Church.  Many will say that parishes are in trouble because they spend too much.  This is not true.  Most parishes are in trouble because the tithe is routinely withheld.  This cripples the parish in the ability to engage fully in the mission of the Church.

     Finally the Canon says, “They are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources.” To promote social justice is more than to vote for people who do good things or whom we will delegate our own responsibilities; it is to look to the good of the society and to realize it is not someone else’s duty to show mercy; it is ours.  The taxes we pay are not in lieu of the tithe.  Mercy is not something we delegate away, but something we always actively engage in.

    The tithe or support is an obligation.  It is about the first fruits and not the scraps.  So grievous was the withholding of the tithe or giving scraps instead of first fruits, that God withheld his blessings from those who withheld their tithe.  I can say from my own experience that money problems and withholding the tithe always seem to go hand in hand.  By the same token, tithing and financial stability have always gone hand in hand as well.  I know it doesn’t numerically add up, but for some reason it works.  Perhaps Malachi isn’t off base. It wasn’t as if my income changed.  We cannot expect financial stability by taking from God what is His.

    For me, it is simple:  I take my income, divide it by 10.  That amount is then split three ways: half of it goes to the parish to help in its work, a tenth goes to the diocese to help it in its work, and the other 40% goes to whatever charities I wish to give it to so as to enable them to do what they need to do.  This would be the standard that is recommended across the board.  This is a baseline, I usually give more to each of these as needed; not because I am a good guy or a wealthy guy, but because I understand the immense blessings God has given to me and I show  thanks by sharing that abundance with others.  As God is never to be outdone in generosity, we should be generous.  The widow’s mite was all she had to give.  Her action showed a profound trust in God’s benevolence and love.  As with the other precepts,  God does not ask what He does so as to destroy us, but so that we have life in abundance.  The tithe isn’t merely about paying bills, it is so much more.  It is about a basic disposition of trust, or mercy, and of compassion.  To withhold it is to actively thwart the ability of God’s people to do the mission to which His Son set us.  Like the other precepts, we will have stand before God and answer.

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