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Financial Tithing and the Worship of God

Financial Tithing and the Worship of God

By Fr. Enan Zelinski, Parochial Vicar

For us as Catholics, our faith is expressed in good works, as we hear in St. Paul. This isn’t just in the moments that we engage in social concern or outreach – which are beautiful and necessary parts of our lives as Christians – but actually in everything we do, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Now that we are in Christ by Baptism, everything we do is capable of being an expression of worship and praise to God. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).

In a particular way, this principle is attached to our practice of stewardship, whereby the faithful supply for the financial needs of a parish and its mission, which is the Fifth Precept of the Catholic Church (CCC 2043). What I would like to do here, as I recently did in a stewardship homily, is show how the Church understands financial stewardship and support not just as a material necessity, but also as a spiritual practice that is connected to both our worship of God and our discipleship. Because in truth, we aren’t just supposed to give because Father has asked and bothered us enough – giving out of guilt or shame. Instead, we are called to give “without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

It is striking that in all of the Gospels, Jesus talks more about money than he does about prayer. This obviously is not because he considers prayer to be unimportant, but more because he knows the danger that money, especially the love of money (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10), poses for the sinful human heart and its relationship to God. The truth is that nothing is a greater competitor to the proper worship of God in the human heart than money. Nothing challenges our worship of God or our discipleship to him more than our desire for and love of money. This is what Jesus is talking about in Luke chapter 16 when he says, “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (the biblical term for riches)” (Luke 16:13).

This is because money is capable in a unique way of making us feel like God. It gives us security, comfort, autonomy, and a sense of freedom. Having money allows us to do what we want, when we want, and how we want. No other created thing gives us this opportunity, and that is why Jesus warns against it so frequently – because it can cause us to supersede God as the Lord of our lives – living for our own wills rather than for his will. This is why money is such a competitor to the worship of God.

A contrast between two biblical stories helps to illustrate this point: The Rich Young Man (Mark 10:17-31) vs. Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). The nameless “rich young man” is one who has kept the law since his youth, but when Jesus invites him deeper – to sell all that he has and give to the poor – he leaves Jesus and does not follow “for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:22).

The story of Zacchaeus, however, has a different ending. Now, Zacchaeus is a “chief tax collector”, and “a wealthy man”. This tells us that he was a lover of money, for the tax collectors were often known to be cheats and thieves who took more than they needed, keeping the extra wealth for themselves. This man, though, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, is profoundly changed and expresses adoration for the Son of God. He who was formerly a worshipper of money doesn’t just worship Jesus in word, but also promises to give half of his wealth to the poor and to repay anyone whom he has extorted four times over. He desires to sacrifice his wealth in worship to the God he has just encountered.

From these examples, we see how the Church’s practice of tithing and stewardship are not just a practical matter for the Church to function, but also that there is a spiritual value to the way in which we use our wealth. Tithing is a sacrifice to God, giving to him and his Church from our personal treasure. It is a small response to all that God has done for us, and is yet another way that we are able to worship and adore God, because we lay down something that gives us great freedom and power, sacrificing it in generosity to God and for the sake of his Church.

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