Today I want to speak to you about generosity and tithing. Over the years I have become convinced that tithing and generosity are keys to understanding the maturity of my personal relationship with Jesus and His Church. In fact, I believe that the way we tithe is a test of our relationship with God. If I don’t tithe my relationship with God is not sound, it is naïve, immature. If I don’t tithe my relationship with the Church is on shaky ground.
Pope Francis said last year, “It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus but without the church, of following Jesus outside of the church, of loving Jesus without loving the church.”
My relationships with Jesus and the Church should be based upon my fidelity and commitment. I love Jesus and the Church. God can count on me; my Church can count on me. If I am to grow and mature in my relationship with God I must grow in generosity.
As a young adult convert, I came to believe strongly in God and the mission of the Church. However, the history of my tithing is probably a more reliable indicator of my personal spiritual growth at any point in my life.
At first, I thought it was a big step for me to go from putting coins in the Church collection to putting in paper money, perhaps a $5 or $10 bill. Of course, I didn’t have much then, but for me this was a big step.
Most of you know that I am a widower, that my wife and I were married for 37 years and that we have 6 children. Tithing was not always an easy topic for us. As a couple it was a big deal for us to give 5% of our earnings to the Church and to charities. Five percent is not a tithe, but it marked a spiritual milestone for us. We were struggling with our young family and growing in faith as a couple. When we finally passed the 10% level, we also came to see the spiritual importance of giving at least 10% of the gross amount of our earnings each year, not just 10% of “take-home” pay. If we got a bonus, we would also give 10% or more of that. We learned to give ungrudgingly, joyfully.
God’s blessings continued to shower over us, and even to increase despite our increased tithing. We were blessed. I continue to tithe and exceed 10% myself. It is important to plan our tithes. Tithing doesn’t take vacations. People take vacation. My tithe should never pay for my vacation. Additionally, it has become important for me to even plan to tithe in my will. After my death, I want at least 10% of my estate to go to the Church.
My wife and I grew to better understand Jesus’ teaching on giving and generosity, as St. Luke recorded:
“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” (Lk 12:15)
“… seek his kingdom” …
Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Lk 12:31-34)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus assumes we will be bringing our gifts to the altar when we assemble, saying,
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus is talking about being reconciled to one another before approaching Him at the altar. We still bring our gift to the altar, we just don’t bring it without reconciling.
Spiritually my wife and I found freedom in tithing. We can become slaves of our money. Not tithing is a form of self-imposed slavery with personal consumption habits that are hard to escape. We become slaves to our possessions and desires. I urge all of you to spend some personal time thinking about your spiritual freedom in coming days. Pray for this freedom and examine your relationship with God in relation to your generosity with your possessions. Soon we will be entering Lent. Lent should be a time of intense self-examination for correction of distortions in our personal relationship with God and with one another, through prayer, sacrifice, fasting and alms.
I ask you to pray about your own stewardship, recalling the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 6:38):
Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.
May you be free. May God bless you abundantly.