The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 35)
Pillars of Catholic Penitential Practice: Money Offerings
Fasting and Prayer (the subject of my last two reflections) have deep spiritual implications for our lives, for our relationship to God and to God's Church. Most of us do not question that both are foundational for the life of faith (even if many of us give neither its due). But what about the third “pillar” of Lent? What about almsgiving? We know that the Church and other “charitable organizations” depend on fund raising. We are aware that our giving to worthy causes is a good thing to do. But is “charitable giving” truly a spiritual matter?
Jesus himself speaks of these three together, with almsgiving in first place: . . . . When you give alms. . . . When you pray. . . . When you fast. . .” (Matt. 6:1-18). The spiritual pillars stand or fall together. And it is Jesus who says (in the same discourse), “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
Several years ago I heard about a survey of a large number of psychotherapists. They were asked, among other questions, “What is the most difficult subject for you to discuss with a colleague? What are you most private about in conversation?” A surprisingly large number placed income and financial problems at the top of the list. It turns out that our relation to our money is perhaps a very intimate business, as intimate as what we pray about. In fact, in the words of Jesus we have been considering, it is not the practical good achieved by our giving that is his chief concern. It is the secret spiritual transaction taking place. “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what you right hand is doing, so that your almsgiving may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:3-4, my emphasis).
How are we to give? Here is a brief catechism on giving from St. Paul. Each point is taken from his Second Epistle to the Church in Corinth, chapters 8 and 9.
Give freely. God does not “charge” us for his gifts; he issues no taxes. God calls us to give, and our gifts are free-will offerings.
Give proportionately. Those who have abundance give abundantly; those who have less, give according to their lesser means. This is the principle of “tithing” — purposefully dedicating a chosen percentage of one's income for the life and mission of the Church. What percent should I give? That's where the freedom comes in.
Give regularly. For example, “on the first day of the week” Christians renew their self offering to God, which includes the offering of money. Because money is the fruit of our labor, and (again) “where your money is there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Just so, the collection of money at Mass is not just “fund raising”. The money offering is an act of worship, which is why it takes place in the Liturgy as part of our preparation for receiving Christ's own self-offering in the Sacrament.
Priority: Christians do not give from the leftovers, from the surplus. They give from the “first fruits of the harvest”. They give “off the top”.
Give sacrificially. This means, not only “until it hurts”. First and foremost it means give prayerfully, that is, as an offering, as a gesture of intimate thanksgiving offered for the sake of your relationship with God.
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