This installment of the Lenten Sermon Series on the Precepts of the Church was delivered on Sexagesima Sunday by Canon William Avis, ICRSS, Pro-Rector of St. Francis de Sales Oratory:
Sexagesima 2013—Precepts of the Church: To contribute to the support of the Church
“Besides those things which are without, my daily instance, the solicitude for all the churches.”—2 Corinthians 11:28
In today’s lengthy epistle, the Apostle Saint Paul speaks to us of his many sufferings in preaching the Gospel. However along with his missionary endeavor, many of us may be unaware of another activity that occupied his time. For this great saint expounded a spiritual and heavenly doctrine, but knew also of material and earthy necessities that any society composed of men would have. As he would write to the Romans (15:26,27), “For it has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a contribution for the poor of the saints that are in Jerusalem. For it has pleased them: & they are their debtors. For, if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, they ought also in carnal things to minister to them.” Raising funds for the needs of the Church was one of Saint Paul’s grave occupations. He would ask in Macedonia, He would ask in Corinth as we read in 2 Corinthians (9:5-8): “Therefore I thought it necessary to desire the brethren that they would go to you before & prepare this blessing before promised, to be ready, so as a blessing, not as covetousness. Now this I say: He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly: & he who sows in blessings shall also reap blessings. Every one as he has determined in his heart, not with sadness or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound in you: that you always, having all sufficiently in all things, may abound to every good work.”
Since the beginning of time, man understood that he owed something to his Creator, from Whom all good things come, & since time immemorial the notion of tithing has been present. When Abraham defeated his enemies & met Melchisedech, the king-priest of Salem, he offered him one-tenth of his spoils (cf. Genesis 14). The Patriarch Jacob would vow to do the same, imitating his grandfather (cf. Genesis 28). Later on Moses would put it in the Law for the whole people of Israel as we read in Leviticus (27:1-2, 30, 34) “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, & you shall say to them... All tithes of the land, whether of corn, or of the fruits of trees, are the Lord's, & are sanctified to Him... These are the precepts which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai.” Some may wonder why one-tenth? The Catholic Encyclopedia offers this insight, “The explanation of why the tenth part should have been chosen...is said to be (apart from a common primitive revelation) that mystical signification of the number ten, viz., that it signifies totality, for it contains all the numbers that make up the numerical system, & indeed all imaginable series of numbers, & so it represents all kinds of property, which is a gift of God. All species of property were consequently reckoned in decades, & by consecrating one of these parts to God, the proprietor recognized the Source of his goods. (Catholic Encyclopedia, Tithes)”
These tithes offered to the Lord were given to the Temple & to the priests & levites for their support. Saint Paul recalled this when soliciting funds for the Church as he wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 9:14): “The Lord directed that those who preach the Gospel should have their living from the Gospel.” It is for this reason that Holy Mother Church has made the precept: To contribute to the support of the Church. For it is through the contributions of the faithful, that she is able to maintain the public worship of God, to educate and instruct in the saving doctrine of Christ, & to provide so many charitable services to those in need.
Now there are several ways that we can fulfill this precept: 1) we can give an offering to the priest when he does some special service on our behalf, for example a Baptism; 2) we can put something in the offertory basket each Sunday; 3) we can contribute to special funds for specific projects such as church restoration or the missions; and 4) we can support a missionary or an individual pursuing a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. We can also volunteer our time & abilities to the Church’s work.
Now apart from the ways that we can fulfill this precept, we may wonder how much ought we to contribute. The Church does not necessarily bind us to tithe, that is to give ten percent of our income. Although those who do tithe receive a blessing from the Lord since, in a very concrete way, they have put their confidence in Divine Providence. One of the faithful in Kansas City once told me that since he made the decision to tithe, his business got better & his family was never in need. Generally the Church would have us give what we can according to our means, something like a day’s wages once a month. While it is a precept & binding under pain of mortal sin, one could not accuse someone “of grave negligence to contribute his share, unless the clergy thereby suffer want or other [members of the faithful] be greatly overburdened. (Jone. Moral Theology, #396)”
Nevertheless, let us reflect on whether we recognize the Lord as our greatest benefactor, that all that we possess has come from Him & meditate on these words of our Savior, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:34).” Amen.