Last week we began to teach about Stewardship. Many of us probably remember being taught the “Precepts of the Church”. The Catechism (#2041) says this, “The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:” The five precepts speak of our obligation to Sunday Mass, the following of the laws of fasting and abstinence set by the Church, going to confession at least once a year, and then the fifth one states (#2043), “You shall help to provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.” The interesting thing is that the Church calls these “positive laws”. They are not restrictions, but require a positive effort. Just like the rules parents give their children for their safety and the harmony of the family, e.gr. “Respect your brothers and sisters, take out the trash, clean your room, etc.” These are what the parents expect of their children, and the children’s compliance marks their integration with the family. The Church doesn’t just make up things out of thin air, but bases its 5th precept upon the following passages of Sacred Scripture.
In Genesis 14: 17-20, Abraham offers 10% of His possessions back to the Lord through the priest Melchisedek in thanksgiving for his military victory over King Chedorlaomer and his allies. In Genesis 28:20-22, Jacob promised to give 10% of his possessions to the Lord as thanksgiving for protection that the Lord provided him on a journey. This is where that figure comes from and the concept of tithing (giving 10% back to the Lord). In the New Testament, Jesus praises the Pharisees for making their tithes, but rebukes them for doing it grudgingly, and mechanically without love and sacrifice (Matthew 23:23 & Luke 11:42). St. Paul also asks us to be cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:5-15). Jesus also sets the example Himself, He who is the Son of God orders St. Peter to pay the temple tax for the both of them (Matthew 17:27). Jesus doesn’t limit us to just 10% in our giving, but praises the poor widow who has even given, not just from her abundance, but from her need (Luke 21: 1-4).
One thing that stands out is that the Church in her fifth precept doesn’t make strict tithing (the giving of 10%) the law, but says, “…each according to his own ability.” For a few giving 10% might cause undue hardship; whereas for others, even 20% would not impinge upon their lifestyle. So we all need to discern our level of giving through prayer and a detailed look at our finances, while remembering the widow from Luke 21. God Bless.