Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

The 11th declaration of our fourth diocesan synod states: “Trusting in God’s providence and giving according to their means, the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are called to live as Disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ by giving of their time and talent and striving to fulfill the biblical command to tithe by donating the suggested amount of at least 8 percent of their income to their parishes and 2 percent to other charities as an expression of their gratitude to God and of their stewardship of His manifold gifts of creation.”

This declaration was one of the more highly discussed and debated topics of the synod. Tithing is a concept that is not familiar to many Catholics despite its strong biblical roots. The earliest example of tithing in the Bible is found in Chapter 14 of the Book of Genesis, where Abram (before God changes his name to Abraham) returns victoriously from battle after rescuing his nephew Lot from captivity and recovering all of the possessions and food supplies that had been stolen from his countrymen. Melchizedek, King of Salem, appears majestically to recognize Abram’s great victory. Melchizedek prefigures the Eucharist by bringing out bread and wine and blessing Abram. In response, the Bible says, “Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”

There is much that we can learn from this account. First, we should note that the 10 percent tithe is given after the battle, not before. This is significant in that the offering is not made in supplication as a plea for God to grant the favor of a successful outcome in battle. Rather, the offering is made in gratitude for the victory having already been achieved.

Second, the offering is not made in response to a request from Melchizedek to satisfy some financial need. Melchizedek, for example, did not ask for a donation to pay for repairs for a leaky temple roof. Nor did Abram ask what Melchizedek intended to do with his gift. That is in contrast to our present reality where so much of charitable giving today is based on responding to a demonstrated need. Fundraisers write “case statements” to explain their need for funds and often donors want to know precisely how their money will be used before contributing.

In this regard, a study by the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic Social and Pastoral Research Initiative found that Catholics are more likely “to focus on giving as ‘paying the bills’ rather than ‘living the vision’ when thinking about money.” As a result, the report showed that, on average, “Catholics are less generous in voluntary financial giving than other Christian groups in the United States.” In response to this reality, the study suggests that what is needed is “fostering parish cultures in which the use of money is not seen as a mere secular or profane matter, but, as the Bible teaches, a spiritual concern that God cares about, that shapes one’s personal spiritual life profoundly, and that can genuinely help transform the world along Christian values and purposes.”

An objection that some raise is that tithing should be seen as an Old Testament concept that has been superseded by the New Testament, similar to the fact that Christians do not follow the Jewish dietary laws of the Old Testament. The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus did not discard the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Thus, for example, Christians are still expected to follow the Ten Commandments as handed down since the time of Moses.

Moreover, the tithe that Abram gave to Melchizedek precedes the covenant that God made with him. Remember that God had not yet changed Abram’s name to Abraham until after his gave his tithe to Melchizedek. The significance of this fact is that changing his name from Abram to Abraham was a sign of God’s covenant him. So tithing does not result from God’s covenant with Abraham, but actually precedes it. The fact that Jesus established a new covenant does not abolish the practice of tithing.

Another way of looking at this is that the laws of the Old Testament set minimum standards, while the New Testament sets higher expectations. For example, Jesus said, “Every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). So anyone who argues that the Old Testament practice of tithing is obsolete is actually saying that a person should give more than 10 percent, not less! So let our giving to God be generous according to

our means.

May God give us this grace. Amen.