Some say a priest should never preach on sex or money. I even would say that our bank accounts are more private than our bedrooms. How many of us would be comfortable seeing the details of our finances published in the parish bulletin? Before going any farther on this topic, let me just say that money is good. Wealth is a blessing, but blessings can quickly become curses because God gives his children blessings to be shared. If we hoard rather than share our blessings, they rot, and they infect us. If I keep all my love to myself, or never share my talents, or do not give time to others, and if I hold tightly to all my money, these blessings become curses. Share your blessings and they bless you; keep them to yourself and they curse you.
Love of Money
We are on the third and last of our annual stewardship commitment weekends. Two weeks ago we planned how we would set aside some time for God in prayer this year; last week we planned how to share some of our talents in building our community; this weekend we plan what financial gifts we will return to God. Someone joked last week that the time and talent weekends were a dress rehearsal for the really important one, the money talk. In a way he is right. Wealth has a more stubborn grip on us and needs greater attention. St. Paul says in 1 Tim 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all evil. Pretty strong words. I remember my seventh grade history teacher asking us why we went to war with England in 1776. We didn’t know, so he drew a huge dollar sign on the blackboard. All wars are driven by money, he said. In fact, greed drives almost all conflicts, from marriage disagreements to world wars. That’s why it’s crucial that we Christians free ourselves from the love of money by giving a portion back to God. Tithing frees us from wealth’s tyranny.
Question: Does God need our money?
Answer: Obviously not, because he owns it all in the first place. In an absolute sense, even the Church does not need our money. It’s God’s Church, and he can run it without our money if he needs to. Don’t get me wrong. Your pastor still has to pay the electric bill, and your gifts support the Church in some very important ways. But God does not command us to tithe because He needs our money. He commands us to tithe, rather, so that we will learn to trust Him. Tithing helps free us from the love of money (so does prayer). The more we love money, the less we can love God and love our friends. In other words, we don’t give to a need; we have a need to give. And most of us Catholics have a long way to go in this department. The average Catholic gives just under 1% of our income away, but God asks for at least 10%. I don’t think we Catholics are inherently stingy, but I think we don’t think our money has much to do with our spiritual lives. We just don’t plan or even think about tithing. That’s why I’m bringing it up today.
Five Wise and Five Foolish
Let’s look briefly at the Gospel. Five wise and five foolish bridesmaids. The wise ones planned ahead. They loved the bridegroom enough to plan for him. When he arrived at Midnight, they were ready to go with him. Planning is an act of love. “This parable,” writes one author, “illustrates the kind of preparedness Jesus expects of his disciples.” How many of us plan our gifts to God and his holy Church? We could plan our time better, for example, and get to Mass a little earlier. We could plan our tithe better too. Most of us toss into the basket whatever we have in our pockets. We give God pocket change. Is that all He means to us?
Last year at this time I planned my tithe, and I did it again yesterday. I realized that over 12 months I’ve become negligent and thoughtless. And my circumstances have changed—we priests got a small raise in salary, but my tithe was not adjusted accordingly. After communion today, after we have received the Body of Christ, God’s supreme gift of Himself, I am going to lead us in a little spiritual exercise of planning our financial gifts to God. Planning my tithe yesterday hurt a little. I realized I was not giving what I could be giving, that I had a little too much extra money hanging around: money that rots and spreads infection. Mother Teresa once said “what would we do with extra money? Bank it? I’d rather die!” Those of us God calls to live in the world do need bank accounts and money in savings, but how much? Let’s let God guide us to greater freedom by submitting even our finances to His perfect will.