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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 29 Jan 2002

Tithes QUESTION from Dave March 15, 2000 My Catholic friend tithes 10% like he is supposed to, but has neglected making payments on thousands of dollars he owes to a hospital for complications associated with pre-mature birth. As this friend couldn't afford to have a family, but had one anyway, he did receive welfare money. And the hospital, trying to give him a break, gave him a zero-interest loan. He has since gotten a good paying job.
I told him that despite his interpretation of his religion, paying back the hospital should be his priority over the tithe. I told him that his way of thinking makes the hospitals charge more to society in general. Myself specifically.
Anyway, we are at an impasse, and I thought I'd ask a neutral party. It just seems he's paying the Church with funds that should rightly go to the hospital.
How does Church teaching rule on this matter? And while I'm at it, is it really 10% - and is that before taxes, after taxes, or after bills?
Thanks, Dave
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on March 22, 2000 Dear Mr. Dave:
Thank you for your question. It is a question that cannot be fully answered because much of it depends upon personal conscience.
As for the Church's precept, the Church requires that its people support the Church and her priests with their tithes and offerings (Canon Law #222, 1254.2), but the Church does not give specific statutory requirements as to how much.
Since the home is the domestic Church, the tithes and offerings should not endanger the household, which is the the domestic Church that must be supported too, and first, before the corporate Church.
With this said, the rest is a matter of faith and conscience.
The position you are taking seems to be one in which the Tithes to the Church (which are tithes to God, by the way) are not a priority over any other kind of obligation. This is a dangerous view in that it places materialism above the needs of God's people above God's wishes. That is, if our tithes take second place to any bill we incur, then what keeps us from incurring debt at our pleasure without regard to how it affects our tithe until we have indebted ourselves out of giving a tithe altogether?
How does this hospital bill prioritize itself with something like the rent, utilities and food? Is the hospital bill to be paid at the endangerment of not being able to pay the rent, utilities and food? No one in their right mind would suggest this.
Obviously, shelter, utilities, and food are FIRST priority and if that means that the hospital bill doesn't get paid, or doesn't get paid as quickly, then so be it. The hospital bill will never get paid if the family becomes homeless or dies from exposure, or starves to death.
Well, spiritual health is also a part of this. If we don't give to God the tithes and offerings He requests then we are ROBBING God.
God tells us that He will take care of us. He tells us that if we honor Him, he will honor us. Is God a liar?
We have an obligation to pay our debts, but NOT at the expense of robbing God of what we owe him. If you will, the tithe is a debt to God.
If we have to be in arrears on one debt or another, who would you rather be in arrears to? Man who can repossess our car, or God who can send our soul to hell?. When we pay our debts to God, God will help us to work out the debts we have made in this world -- even if the means bankruptcy (a concept that came from God originally). God will make lemonade out of the financial lemons we create in our lives or that drop into our lives, IF we allow Him to. And His doing that is dependent upon us being the best stewards of the money He has given us that we can be under the circumstances.
But that stewardship does not include robbing God of all tithes for the sake of bills. Rather it means continuing to pay God the tithes and offerings that are appropriate and disciplining oneself strictly in all areas of spending and finanical liefstyle to get the other bills paid. If that means moving to a cheaper home, then that is what we should do. If that means selling the car loan we have and buying a cheap used car that is still reliable as needed by the family, then that is what we must do. These matters must be discerned carefully by the family and their spiritual director. It is not appropriate for outsiders to make judgments on this.
If all else fails, and bankruptcy is needed, then we must set aside pride and avail ourselves of that option -- that is a common and sometimes only option when unexpected medical bills are dropped into our lap. God will help is through if we allow Him, if we take responsibility, and if we continue to honor Him in our tithes and offering in spite of our financial troubles. Remember to poor woman who gave all she had?
Mark 12:41-44: He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.
As to the amount of tithe, that may have to be adjusted in a crisis, or not, depending upon the faith and conscience of the person. The word, tithe means 10% and in those days of old, it was 10% of the what today is called Gross Income, but arguments can be made to consider it 10% of the Net Income after taxes since we have a different tax and state welfare system than was present in those biblical days. No matter where one begins the count, the Church does not impose 10% specifically. It is left up to the circumstances and conscience of the individual.
For a more specific discussion on the tithing custom taught by the Church and practiced in the United States, see Principles of Tithing. This is an excerpt from the Rule of St. Michael.
Bottom line though Mr. Dave, and excuse the bluntness, but your friend's faithfulness to God in the midst of financial hardship is, at worst none of your business, and at best should be a testimony of faith and trust in God that should inspire you to increase your own faith and trust in God.
The following verse is the ONLY place in the whole Bible that God dares us to test Him:
Malachi 3:8-10, 16-17 Dare a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me! And you say, How do we rob you? In tithes and in offerings!
You are indeed accursed, for you, the whole nation, rob me.
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, That there may be food in my house, and try me in this (this means test me), says the LORD of hosts: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessing upon you without measure?
Then they who fear the LORD spoke with one another, and the LORD listened attentively; And a record book was written before him of those who fear the LORD and trust in his name.
And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my own special possession, on the day I take action. And I will have compassion on them, as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.
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