Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Catholics and tithing

I read an interesting discussion of tithing and Catholics over at the Aggie Catholic blog. I began to leave a second comment over there, but thought that perhaps this topic deserves a blog post over here, instead.

Marcel writes:
But, don't be too quick to judge. Too many Catholics treat Jesus in the same manner. How? Many of us don't tithe, but rather give when it is convenient and easy.

Most Catholics are tippers, not tithers. Many don't sacrificially give to God, but tip Him when they feel like it.

Most Catholics only give when convenient. This isn't a loving gift to God. Imagine if someone else only gave to you when it was convenient and never sacrificed for you. This action doesn't show a real deep love for another, but a selfishness and a love of money. [...]

A good way to examine where we are in our journey with Christ is to check our next bank statement. Have I given what I should? How does this reflect my relationship with Christ?
I have a bit of a problem with the way this is put, especially the last paragraph quoted. We don't, after all, purchase our relationships with Christ. But there's more to my discomfort than this, and I think it's worth exploring a bit.

As I mentioned in the comment box, people often think of fulfilling the fifth precept of the Church in terms of tithing, and particularly of tithing money. The precept reads as follows (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 2043):

The fifth precept ("You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church") means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.86

The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities.87

I'm not a scholar or theologian, but I notice three things here: first, that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, and second, that the faithful have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church; and third, that there is no mention of tithing at all. Of course, there are plenty of references to tithing in the Bible and in the writings of the Church over the ages; but I think it's worth pointing out that the giving of ten percent of one's income or goods (etc.) is not specifically required of the faithful.

Now, when I mentioned in the Aggie Catholic combox that providing service to the Church is a way beyond the writing of a check that people can give to the Lord, another commenter was rather dismissive of the idea. Note again that precept: what does "obliged to assist" mean if it does not mean "roll up one's sleeves and pitch in," so to speak? Is it better for a parish to pay money to a crew of cleaners, or to have dedicated volunteers who will clean the church buildings, restrooms, offices etc.? Is it better for a parish to pay professional musicians and singers to provide all of the music at Mass, or to have dedicated volunteers who will offer their skills and talents in this realm? Is it better for a parish to hire a crew of temporary workers to stuff envelopes for a special appeal--or to grab the choir after Mass one day and ask them to put in an extra hour's work? (Yes, that last one happened to us, and we were glad to help.)

The truth is that while Catholics are rather stingy about donating money to their parishes, we're even stingier with our time. "I'd love to help, but I'm just too busy," is a phrase parish staff will hear frequently whenever Father needs a little extra help with groundskeeping or church decorations or fundraising or parish council business or a school or religious ed. program or anything else you can imagine; and there are far too many Catholics who assume that their weekly offering checks absolve them from any responsibilities in this regard.

That said, it is certainly true that the second part of the fifth precept does obligate us to help provide for the material needs of the Church--and this includes donating money not only at the parish level, but to religious orders, charitable works of the Church, various Catholic organizations and initiatives, and the like. But whether this means a positive obligation to give ten percent of one's pay to the Church depends on how you look at the question.

Again, I'm not a scholar in this field, but it strikes me that in the Old Testament, the tithes came from a few specific sources: crops, cattle, and land, particularly. The obligation to pay a tithe apparently came from having had these things increase; that is, if your crops failed or only barely fed your family, or if your livestock did not reproduce, or if you did not gain land, then you had no increase from which to pay the tithe. In other words, the tithe was ten percent of the fruits of your labor as measured in real, tangible goods--though it was acceptable to pay an agreed-upon sum of money instead, especially if you lived a good distance from the Temple and couldn't easily transport what you owed.

Today, of course, few of us actually own anything which increases on its own; even our homes, which most of us are renting from banks anyway, have primarily lost value. The currency we exchange for goods and services is not based upon things of real value, either, and its value can be raised or lowered according to the prescriptions of economists; in addition, the real goods and services can, and do, fluctuate in price all the time. Grocery prices, for instance, have been rising for the past four or five years, and are predicted to go up again; fuel costs are also rising. In the meantime, salaries have been flat or falling for the past two or three years, and unemployment continues to hover near the 10% mark. If we considered ourselves in any way obliged to tithe based on an increase in our fruits of labor and/or profits, its hard to say how many of us would even be obligated to do so.

And that's even before we consider the question of taxes and how that relates to tithing: if you could give ten percent of your income, should you give ten percent of the total before taxes, or ten percent of what you actually take home? Though some consider this a hair-splitting, excuse-making question, the fact is that you don't have the money that is taken in taxes--so how can you give ten percent of something you don't actually have?

But the Church, in her wisdom, doesn't place the obligation of tithing on the faithful. She simply directs us to assist in the material needs of the Church and to provide for those needs, according to our ability. That ability will vary widely from person to person and family to family, but it is an obligation we should take seriously.

A wise and orthodox priest I know counseled his parishioners to consider contributing the equivalent of one hour's salary a week to the parish. I think this is a very just and reasonable way to reflect on what we are able to give, and to make a start if we haven't already. And it has the added benefit of not placing on the faithful a burden that the Church herself doesn't place.


Anonymous said...

I think people should give what they can give. Honestly, I feel like everyone who attend Mass every Sunday is already doing that.

However, the other 70% of people are the issue. They might expect the Church to be there for them to baptize their babies, hopefully confirm them and give them First Communion, and bury their parents in time, but they feel no obligation on their part to contribute to make sure the Church can still be there.

And then there are the people who are "offended" by the envelopes, don't even get me started on that!

As far as time, I agree. It's a shame though that the calls to volunteer are greatest when people's kids are growing up, when you are most busy and stressed. I am not able to volunteer that much right now, but I hope when I get older and my kids get older, I can give back my time and relieve a harried mother of having to do it.

Anonymous said...

I think you nailed it when you talk about people's precarious financial situations. This is almost embarrassing to admit, but between our escalating property taxes, high school tuition for our oldest child, food, gas, incidentals for the children, etc. we have very little discretionary income at the end of the pay period. I give a steady amount each week, and I wish I could give more, but I can't. I resent the finger wagging from the tithing crowd - who are these people anyway? Come and pay my jumbo mortgage and my close to 20K in property taxes per annum and then talk to me about tithing; oh yeah and let's not forget about the AMT and what it does to all us "rich folk" here in the northeast.

Maureen said...

We strive to give 10%, but not solely to the Church. And some years we are better able to do so than others. We consider supporting our local crisis pregnancy center and FOCUS missionary and CFCA sponsored child to all be part of giving back to God. Plus doing things that enable others to be on the frontlines of pro-life work (my husband and a couple of friends were the labor for replacing the roof on the home of our CPC director's house - she is paid a miniscule stipend so couldn't afford to pay a roofer). Plus, as Erin said, simply doing tasks for the parish so they don't have to pay for it. People joke with my husband that he should just bring his toolbox to Mass on Sundays as he's known to be a person willing and able to fix things.
I think it's a combination of gratefulness and generosity in using the individual talents we have been given that is called for.

freddy said...

Yup! Pitching in, helping out, organizing, cleaning up, fixing -- sometimes it seems like the same families week after week! Living in a money based society makes it hard sometimes to see beyond the check in the basket, but there's a lot more to contributing than worrying about the decimal point.

And speaking of tithing, one thing that people sometimes forget is that a family with, say four small chidren living on one income would have to pay the same as a single person making the same amount; people living in different parts of the country pay different amounts for food, gas and taxes while often bringing home the same amount of money; even when things are relatively equal, people often have widely different financial responsibilities. Tithing sounds great, but it's not right to push it as the only Christian way to support the Church.

Marcel said...

I wasn't implying that tithing rules out service to the Church. This isn't an either/or distinction. I think we owe both to the Church.

The 10% tithe is a guideline, not a law. The law is that we give. But, no saint is bound solely by the law, but has been freed from the prescripts of the law by going beyond it to love.

I spiritually can't afford not to tithe, even if I can't afford my tithe every month.

I work full-time for the Church, have a mortgage, my wife stays at home, I have 5 kids, etc. I know what it is like to have a tight budget. I also don't believe my circumstances should dictate what I give back to God, because it isn't mine to keep anyway.

Baron Korf said...

What I find is that the people who give financially become the ones who give of their time. When you have a fiscal share in the parish, you are more likely to care about what is being done. And "if you want something done right, you do it yourself" comes into play, often in a good way.

Red Cardigan said...

Marcel, I've left another comment over at your post, but let me repeat some of it here: the 10% number refers to the original Old Testament practice of giving 10% of the *increase* in one's land, cattle, crops and fruit--so how is that even remotely applicable to a situation in which most people are simply paid a wage on which they must live?

A "salary" is not the exact same thing as an "income," (despite our tax code's conflation of the two). And since most people haven't seen any actual increase in income in a long time, how is the "Tithe ten percent of your annual salary" notion really the same thing as the understanding of tithing in the ancient world?

Suppose a person with a young family has a relatively static salary of $40,000/yr. and a modest savings account of $6000. Though his take-home pay is only $33,000, he believes he must tithe on the full 40K, and thus contributes $4,000 a year to the church.

The first year he must dip into his savings to the tune of $1500 to cover the shortage between his income and his family's expenses. The second year he needs an additional $2000 from the savings account (into which he has not been able to put any more money). The third year an additional child is born to the family, and the remainder of the savings account disappears in the new expenses. The fourth year he ends up with a credit card debt of $3200 because his income is not meeting his family's needs--and we're speaking of the basic needs, food, clothing, and shelter, not expensive vacations and fancy gizmos.

But his income has remained the same--in fact, it has gone up just a little, to $42,000 (thought this doesn't offset the rise in grocery prices and gas prices). Is he still encouraged to give 4,200 a year to the Church? Even if it means signing his wife and children up for WIC and other state assistance programs? Or even if it means his wife must go to work full time and put the kids in day care?

At what point, in other words, is it tantamount to an injustice to insist that tithing a) always means giving ten percent of one's *salary*, and b) is the "minimum standard" for what a faithful Catholic ought to do?

freddy said...

I'm very sure that you and your family give not only generously, but sacrificially. But please consider that the exhortation to other to tithe, (and your article really was focused on the financial giving) is going beyond what the Church, in Her wisdom, commands from us. In doing this, you may -- inadvertantly!- place a burden on some of your readers.

Years ago, when my husband and I had a small income and a small but growing family, we met some folks who enthused about the merits of tithing. It seemed that if we were to start tithing, my husband would instantly get a raise and I'd wake up taller, thinner and blonde, and we'd both be so holy our little apartment windows would spontaneously become stained glass! Unfortunately, with our various financial burdens and difficulties, we were never able at that time to give more than 3 to 5 percent, but we were able to add stress and guilt to our marriage. I lost sleep thinking I was that rich young man in the gospel, turning away from Our Lord, and how selfish we were wasting our money on food, rent, and student loans.

Fortunately, a wise priest reminded me that not all are called to the same level of giving at the same times, and that different states of life require different responses, as long as we do, in fact give as we can.

Now, Marcel, I wouldn't have any problem with your article if you had spoken only about the need to respond to Our Lord with greater generosity, more love and more trust. Many of us can and should do more. Can I? Sure! But when you mention "tithing" as if it is some sort of holy goal or magic number, I get nervous. That's not what the Church teaches.

Teresa said...

We are a family with four young children living on one modest income. I can relate completely to the feeling that we just cannot afford to give 10% of our gross income to those more needy; for that reason, during the first few years of childrearing, we gave far less.

As our one income slowly increased (from miniscule to modest) we eventually came to two concurrent realizations:

(a) No matter how much that income increased, we would find "needs" to spend it on. "Needs" are relative.

(b) Despite the fact that we live very frugally and modestly (on well below the median income for married couples with or without children), we still already have a standard of living well above most of the people in the world. Nearly everyone in the United States does.

Needs are relative. What you can "afford" is relative. If your gross pay was cut by 10% tomorrow, you'd make some major changes and figure out how to cope. Tithing at least 10% to help those in more need is worth that kind of effort.

Once we started putting the 10% FIRST in the budget rather than lower down the list, my husband did NOT get a big raise. :-0 I did not get taller or thinner. We had to scrimp and scrape more. Thoughts of vacations or restaurant meals receded even further. Currently, we barely save any money at all - though we are working hard on little ways to increase saving. We do have to trust that God will show us how to deal when the unexpected happens.

But, strangely, something even better happened for us personally. Giving until it hurts, rather than giving of our excess, has definitely increased our gratitude for the income we have. And increased our contentment with all we have. :-)

When you look at the people we try to help with those charitable gifts (often the poorest of the poor, living lives so difficult we can't even imagine it really, in desolate parts of the world) ... it inspires awe and wonder at how abundant our material blessings are.

Somehow, one of those huge paradigm shifts happened. Now it seems almost outright selfish to save for retirement when there is such need in the world today.

We're still thinking and praying on how to handle that retirement savings issue. But giving at least the biblical 10% is definitely a good place to begin, to get a clearer perspective.

Erin, I don't think that your argument about the 10% being calculated only on an increase in assets really holds water. We can find reasonable ways to spend almost any amount of salary on ourselves, thus not increasing our assets and theoretically having nothing to tithe on. But that is antithetical to the whole concept of giving the first-fruits and living on the rest.

Red Cardigan said...

Here's what bugs me, Teresa: for most of the history of tithing, the tithe was paid *not* in money (except by the extremely wealthy who didn't want to deal with having to transport large amounts of crops and cattle) but in actual tangible real goods.

Translating that into a rigid "ten percent of your salary" can easily put people into the situation where they are violating other aspects of Christian living, such as the duty to provide for their children.

Not everyone *can* come up with ways to spend ten percent of their income on themselves--we never have ten percent left over, and we're not exactly living extravagantly. And you can argue that our standard of living is just too high if you want, but we live in America and have to deal with the realities that involves.

Would a family who squeezed into a too-small car without enough seatbelts/carseats for the children so they could still tithe be doing something good, or something not so good?

LarryD said...

It's been my understanding that if a family is sending their children to Catholic school, that tuition is part of 'tithing' - yes, you are getting something for the money - an education (presumably!) - but at the same time, I know of no parent who doesn't also volunteer in some capacity.

Also - giving to the Church comprises the three T's: time, talent and treasure. The Catechism paragraphs Red cited don't say 'treasure' - we give what we can in any of the three categories, and leave it in God's hands.

And other charitable contributions certainly fall within the 'tithing' definition - it's not limited to just the parish we belong to. Just thought I'd add that to the conversation, in support of what Red wrote.

I was raised to believe that the 10% number reflected net, not gross.

Casey Truelove said...


Your whole argument assumes that tithing is an expense line on the budget, that you're cutting the tithe out of your living expenses.

Rather, look at tithing as the most important thing that gets done with your money.

Before I started tithing, I was grossing $75/week and was giving $5/week to the Church. I was scraping by. I heard about tithing, so I figured that I could scrape even more and try to give an extra $2.50. So I did. I put God's money first. The rest was money for me to live on. It was a real sacrifice--"giving until it hurts," as Marcel put it. I didn't buy a car that didn't have enough seat belts or violate my Christian duties. I hunkered down and spent money only on those things to which my duties required me to spend money. God has seen so fit to allow me to receive a greater income now and I continue to give 10% of my gross--the fruit of my labors. In fact, your $40,000 example is basically my own. Except I don't have to dip into my savings account to the tune of $1500 to cover any shortage. My wife and I budget well ahead of time, so that there is no "dipping" needed. That's just it. I live off of the remaining money. The tithe goes to God first, my taxes go to Caesar, err, Uncle Sam, and I live on the rest. It doesn't take a genius economist to say, "live with the money you have, not the money you don't have." There's no need for fear-mongering about trying to tithe, there's need for trust in God. Sure, tithing isn't comfortable. I could use the extra $4000/year, but if it were comfortable, I would just be tipping God, not sacrificing to Him.

That's another important key--it's a sacrifice that we unite to the sacrifice of the crucifixion at Mass. Tithing is a sacrifice, not something we give from our surplus.

Also, about the whole, "giving out of increase" thing. If a farmer reaped 10 bales of hay, he would tithe 1 bale. The hay is the product of his labors. If the shepherd had 10 new sheep born in a year, he would tithe 1. Most of us don't have physical products as the fruit of our labors; rather we have money. It wasn't as though the farmer reaped 10 bales this year and 5 last year, so he would only tithe 1/2 bale this year because his increase was 5 bales. The farmer consumes his product as we consume our money. The sheep are eaten, sold/traded, or they die. When you mention "increase," remember that it isn't as though farmers are magically able to horde their existing sheep and never have to use them as a source of sustenance or a commodity--and it isn't as though they live forever. Money is used as a representative for real, tangible goods. If I wanted, I could change my money in for those real, tangible goods, or I could invest my money and let it grow indefinitely and exchange it for those goods later. The money I earn is my "increase." It's money I didn't have before, it's more than I have now, it's the fruit of my labors and so I tithe on it.

Am I saying that "thou shalt tithe" is the 11th commandment? No. Am I saying that sacrificing to God is good--and possible? Yes. Is 10% the required amount one must give? No. Is it a good model? Yes.

[continued in next comment]

Casey Truelove said...

Do I also give my time to the Church? Yes. Do I think that time is a substitute for tithe? Not really. . . I see your point that the Church would otherwise spend money on things for which people donate their time, but I also work for the Church and know that parishes need income to keep afloat. Like Marcel, I see that time and treasure are not mutually exclusive. Right now only a small percentage of the people in parishes do most of the volunteering. If people were seriously splitting their time and treasure--say they gave 5% of their time and 5% of their treasure--we would already have many more volunteers than we do now (and in many parishes, much more money than they do now), but does that mean that it is the same sacrifice? Not really. Money is the fruit of our labors. Time is something we don't earn. Both can be given to God, but I don't think that they are exactly interchangeable.

As for the three Ts, well, I've always thought that whenever you're using your talent, your using your time, so it's not really a validly distinct category--just a catch phrase. I've too often seen this catch phrase used by those who weren't willing to sacrifice.

For a better understanding of biblical sacrifice and Gospel poverty (in the sense of what we are ALL called to be living--not destitution), I highly recommend that all of you (everyone on here and Marcel's blog) read Fr. Thomas Dubay's "Happy Are You Poor." I think it will be a great help to finding answers to this question of what one should give to God.

Red Cardigan said...

Casey, I don't have a problem with putting the Lord first, giving generously, etc. I do have a problem with the fixation on the "ten percent" number, simply because the Church doesn't require any such thing.

And there are good reasons for that. Life is uncertain, and sometimes economic hardships make families struggle to get by on a salary that is too low for them to make ends meet. Children have needs that parents are obligated to take care of. Elderly relatives might suddenly need a home and care from a family that is already living paycheck to paycheck. And so on.

I think that what bothers me about the "ten percent" crowd is that there's a one-size-fits-all assumption that may be unjust. If a married couple with no children earns $40,000 a year, and another married couple with eight children earns $40,000 a year because the husband lost a better job three years ago and had to take what he could find to avoid foreclosure on his house--is it really *just* to tell both of them that they must donate $4,000 of their income each year as a kind of "secret minimum Catholic standard of appropriate generosity to God?"

Because what I'm not seeing from the "give 10 percent if you truly understand this issue!" crowd is any inkling that the obligations of a man with eight children to provide for are any different from, say, a starving student living on $75/week. The latter can choose sacrificially to eat cheap food and needs little in the way of clothing or other goods; the former has to feed his family and provide them with shoes and clothing and medical care and so forth.

Anonymous said...

Just because you tithe doesn't mean that God is going to bless you with a bigger income. That's what it sounds like to me. How is this any different from protestant mega churches "wealth and health"? I prefer the Catholic approach to tithing - time, treasure and talents.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying all who give 10% (or any fixed amount for that matter) do this, but another temptation is to think, "Well, I've given God His due, now the rest is mine." In reality, it's all his. Stewardship is realizing that none of it is 'mine' anyway. I belong to Christ, so everything that comes into my sphere of influence belongs to Him. If we're gonna talk percentages, in the New Law of the Gospel it seems to be 100%, not 10%. That's our starting point, and we go from there with the great virtues of prudence and justice and gifts of fear of the Lord and piety.


Casey Truelove said...

Where does the Catechism say "time, talent and treasure?" It's a made up catch phrase.

Like I said 10% isn't a must, but it is a good model. Don't get stuck on the 10%. It's a model. It's a guide because it's something that most families should be able to do. Since it is so lax these days, we have most people in parishes giving 1% (or LESS) and the Church is not being provided for.

A parish at which most families gave 10% of their income off the top could support the families who fell on hard times (like your $40,000 & 8 kids example)--ala Acts 2:45, but the fact is, this whole "time, talent, and treasure" mumbo jumbo gives people an excuse not to sacrifice their money . . . scratch that--not to Give God HIS money.

That's another thing, we need to keep in mind that it's really God's Creation, not ours, we're just put in charge of it as stewards.

I was looking at a parish financial report from my mom's parish a while back and do you know how much the average family gave per week? SIX DOLLARS!!!!! This is an average, somewhat wealthy parish, that has been sucked into the "time, talent, treasure" jargon and has lost the whole idea of sacrificially giving to God. In that diocese the average Director of Religious Education is paid on a poverty-level salary--and we wonder why RE programs aren't any better. It's no wonder. What qualified professional theology teacher can really support his family on that? So most DREs are part-timers, or wives whose husbands make the primary income. No husband can provide for his family in that situation. No parish can flourish on $6/family/week, but that's what the 3T model will often result in--excuses not to tithe. As someone said above, those who invest in the parish have a vested interest and are more likely to volunteer too.

Those who are really unable to even give 10% are like the poor widow. They only give a little, but that little is a sacrifice. It's fine if they don't give 10%--like I said, 10% is a model, not a mandate. But most families should be able to sacrifice 10%, or at least get close. Do most families? No. Not in any parish that preaches "time, talent and treasure." In parishes that hold up the biblical tithe as a model (not a mandate) people give. They invest into their parish. Their parish is able to invest into those who aren't well off.

This is no "health and wealth" gospel. It is sacrificial giving. If God allows you to have more income afterwards, great, but there's no guarantee, there's no promise. There is just a recognition that it's all God's money, and giving the first fruits to Him is better than giving Him your excess--"tipping Him," as Marcel put so well. If a family is in such a dire situation as not to be able to sacrifice 10%, don't. Or do, and ask the Church for help with your needs.

Anonymous said...

Casey Truelove,

Aren't we talking in circles here? There is no mention of 10% tithe in the Catechism either. And as Erin said, is it pre or post tax income? Or does it matter in your opinion (since you are an expert on parish finances and how and what people give throughout the country).

Casey Truelove said...

The Catechism lists the biblical obligation to tithe among the ways that the Jews provided for the poor in paragraph 2449 ("tithe" means "tenth" or 10%). The tithe is mentioned a LOT in the Bible:

Genesis 28:22
Leviticus 27:30-32
Numbers 18:21-28
Deuteronomy 12:6-17, 14:22-28, 26:12-14
2 Chronicles 31:5-12
Nehemiah 10:37-38, 12:44, 13:5-12
Amos 4:4
Malachi 3:8-10
Tobit 1:6, 5:13
Judith 11:13
Sirach 35:9
1 Maccabees 3:49, 10:31, 11:35
Hebrews 7:4-9

I'm not here trying to convince anyone of my ideas. I'm trying to uphold the model that we're given by God. I also am not an expert. I just want to try to promote clearer thinking on the matter.

As for the pre-tax/post tax question, I would argue for tithing off of pre-tax (gross) income. Here's why: You are taxed from your gross income--that is, you give money to Uncle Sam based on your gross income. Would you give to God His money based on what you have left after paying Uncle Sam? That seems more like "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God from what is left," than "...unto God what is God's." Sure you never see the tax money because they withhold it from your paycheck, but it's money that you're earning and paying to the government. It's not money that you're not earning. With your taxes you are buying the government's services (road construction/repair/plowing, street lighting, military protection, etc.). It is your money, you are just paying for the services with automatic withdrawals. Our parish allows us to pay our tithe the same way, so our tithe money is like our tax money.

I tithe on what I earn. I don't tithe on gifts or things like that, but I'm open to the idea. I don't know all the answers. Like I said, I'm not an expert. I've just thought/read a little on the subject, and I'm trying to promote clearer thought to finding the best way to follow the precept to support the material needs of the Church. Again, I suggest reading Dubay's "Happy Are You Poor." It's a great introduction to living the poverty that the gospel calls us to. It's easy reading and very well thought out.

Red Cardigan said...

Casey, you never answered my question: how many children do you have?

Because let's go back to my example: family of ten (mother, father, 8 children) living on take-home pay of 40,000 per year (and there are tons of families in this situation right now, believe me).

Dad technically earns 52,000 before the government takes its share. The family pays $600/month to squeeze into a small, modest home (including taxes and insurance) and another $200/month to pay off an old but large car. Groceries have gone up, and even though the family eats rice, beans, and other cheap foods they are spending $500/month (which is what the average family of FOUR spends, by the way).

Add in the cost of gas for the car for the year and you've already spent almost half of this family's income--before we talk about clothing or medical care or other basic needs. Yet you think they should be giving $433 per month to the Church?

Luckily, the Church in her wisdom does not require this of them, and does not view them as "lesser Catholics" if they can't do as you do.

Teresa said...

Heartily second the recommendation for Fr. Dubay's book Happy Are You Poor. That's a life-changing book.
Money is simply a medium of exchange. Erin, you use crops as an example. A farmer growing crops today wouldn't bring a tenth of his harvest down to his local parish, or send it directly to Food For The Poor, or whatever. He'd sell his crops and donate a tenth of the proceeds. Exact same net effect.

My husband's salary is the same thing - his earnings from his work, which he uses to provide for his family. We can use it to buy food for ourselves (perhaps fancier/more convenient food, as his salary increases). We can also donate 10% of it off the top for those with less means who also need food, and choose our own food based on what's left over.

No, I don't think a family who put kids into a car with too few seats would be doing a good thing. That's a true need. However, our family does squeeze into a merry little shoebox of a house. :-) My point here is that there are always choices. We often don’t see the choices, precisely BECAUSE we live in America and are constantly surrounded by affluence.

Therefore those of us in the richest part of the world (in fact, the most able to give) often perceive ourselves as unable to give much.

Excluding the super-rich, I maintain that most working families can find ways to spend virtually all of their income on themselves and see it as reasonable, even as providing for "needs". I say this because of my own experience and that of families I know personally. I have good friends of widely varying income levels and consumption levels. As income increases, they tend to buy bigger houses, buy more things brand-new, comparison shop less, travel more, buy more convenience foods, etc. We all do, I think, usually. Expenses rise gradually with income. None of these people feel like they are really wealthy, that they live extravagantly, or that they have ten percent "left over".

Personally, I find myself falling into the trap of seeing wants as needs & desiring things much more often than I would like. I could spend a lot of money on really nice homeschooling curriculum. Convenient but still wholesome and healthy food … oh yeah! I'm the perfect target market for that prewashed, precut produce. I love to order off the internet sometimes when my kids need clothes, rather than go to the thrift store in the city where we can save literally 95% on good-quality durable clothing. I love eating in restaurants ...

It's easy to see why almost no one puts their personal spending/saving first and then finds they have a tenth left over.

We don't need to be living extravagantly to give 10%. If we gave 10% because it was "left over", that would be missing the point. The tenth is supposed to come first.

I think Casey's last post hits the nail on the head. It's true that not everyone can give even a tenth … the truly destitute cannot. Some, even here in America, have no income to give from. But MOST of us, even larger families with modest incomes, really can, albeit with significant sacrifice.

So for most of us, if we choose not to give a tenth, we shouldn't kid ourselves that we can't, or that it would be irresponsible of us to do so. If we do choose to give a tenth, we also should not be satisfied with that. We should go further and give more.

Erin, I agree that in your example, the single person probably can and should give much more than a man supporting a family on the same income. But many single people also don't believe that they have excess to give. Perceived needs have a way of closely tracking available income.

I do find that the using the biblical 10% as a starting point is remarkably effective at helping us keep in mind that none of it is really ours … it belongs 100% to God, and for some reason he's currently trusting us to use it wisely for His purposes.

Anonymous said...

How about this hypothetical family of 6 living in the metro NYC area:

Income 150K
Monthly gross: 8500
mortgage & taxes: 4500
car, insurance & gas: 700
Catholic school tuition for 4 children (3500 per year, per child) 1000K per month
food and incidentals: 1000K
utilities and cable/internet: 500

Do you really think that this family (look how wealthy they are!) have an extra 850 per month to give to their parish?

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

But MOST of us, even larger families with modest incomes, really can [give a tenth], albeit with significant sacrifice.

Frankly, you can't make this claim just based on your own personal experience. No one can! That is why, the Church, in her wisdom, avoids placing specific requirements like this on the faithful. Exactly how many children is "pro-life"? What are the specific reasons for legitimately not seeking pregnancy? People debate these issues ad nauseum and then it always boils down to one side saying, "Well, you are just being selfish!" and how exactly does one argue with that?

It's a false claim to accuse selfishness of anyone who's intimate family information is not known to you. You might determine for yourself and your situation that less than 10% is selfish but you can't bind anyone else to that burden without sounding like a Pharisee, and we know what Christ thought of those people!

Teresa said...


Yep, I agree with all your points completely except the first sentence.

You're right that the Church does not, in Her wisdom, place a specific requirement like 10% on giving. And I agree that no one can make a claim about what another particular person or family should be giving - that's specific to each individual family situation.

I would go even further than you have below, and say that I absolutely cannot accuse anyone of selfishness, even if their intimate family information were known to me. I don't think, and sincerely hope, that I did not accuse anyone of selfishness in either of my comments.

The point I'm making is a macro one. MOST of us living in the most affluent western countries could give far more than we do, without endangering or neglecting our children or being irresponsible. Yet many of us truly do not believe that we could do that.

Why the disconnect? I don't think it's because of willful selfishness. I think it's simply that, surrounded by and accustomed to affluence, many of us naturally develop a distorted perspective of what we need. This is almost unavoidable due to the human condition.

I think that deciding to tithe off the top, per the biblical instruction, is actually very helpful in practice for helping us counter the distortion a little bit. It's a tool we can employ that helps us sort out serious needs from our incidental environment and circumstances. Tithers often find themselves giving even more, as a result of their increased awareness of their own relative circumstances as well as increased awareness of the circumstances of those the tithe goes to help.

I'm also saying - separate issue - that I believe tithing surprises us by being more beneficial to the giver than it's possible to imagine until you actually do it. That popular money guy Dave Ramsey believes that God gave us tithing for *us*, simply for the benefit of the tither in knowing he is giving to God's people, and not just of his excess. I think that certainly could be part of it. :-) While tithing by itself is not likely to improve your material circumstances, it can be a great blessing mentally and spiritually.

So Charlotte, I'm not saying that everyone in every situation MUST tithe at least 10%, or that not doing so implies selfishness.

I am, however, strongly recommending tithing. :-)

Even, or especially, when it looks too difficult at first glance.