Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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November 4th, 2010



lalupe-tithing-flashTithing used to be emphasized a lot more in the past as necessary to lead a good Christian life but has fallen out of favor.

I recently taught my students about stewardship which included a lesson on tithing.  I thought it was an important lesson to teach because my experience is that people don’t think that it is important to give money to the Church.  Some people get extremely offended when they are told that the Church needs money.  They don’t think it is the Church’s business what they do with their money and how dare the Church tell them that they have to give what they have worked so hard for and deserve.  Some have actually walked out of the church when the priest has to give his once-a-year homily on the finances of the church.

In the Gospels, Jesus teaches so many lessons about money.  Why?  Because it is so hard to detach ourselves from money.  It is so easy to justify keeping and using money.

Well, I could pledge to help this high school student go on a mission trip but we need to keep saving up for Suzy’s college fund.

I could give money but I really need to save money for Christmas presents.

And so on.

I have to admit, we haven’t tithed since Olivia was born.  When we got married, we started off really good.  10% of every paycheck automatically deposited into an account which we then distributed to the places we wanted to give money to.  It was a really good system and we didn’t miss the money because it was never part of our spending money to begin with.  Then Olivia was born.  Hospital bills started pouring in.  Brandon got a new job based on commission.  And we cancelled the 10% deposit and have not done it since.

Now let’s just run some numbers.  The general guideline we followed was that we set aside 10% of the income we received after taxes and stuff was taken out.  5% went to non-profit organizations we wanted to support, 4% went to our parish, and 1% went to the diocese.  So, theoretically, if a person were to make $36,000/year after taxes, that person should be giving $3,600/year:
$1,800 to non-profits,
$1,440 to the home parish,
$360 to the diocese.

I got to wondering: why it is so hard to tithe?  Why do people not think it is important?  Why do people get so mad when the Church asks for money?

I think it is because we can always use more money.  According to our example, if we did not give the $3,600 to charity but kept it and put it in savings, it would only take 3-5 years to have a pretty decent down payment for a house.  A house isn’t a bad thing to have.  Especially if your family is growing and space is getting tight.  That white picket fence and crown molding can be very tempting.

Me, for example, I have a few things on my wish list.  Now that we have Olivia we realize how important pictures are and our digital camera, while good, does not take really great pictures.  Most are either too bright or too dark.  I’ve been eyeing our friends who have those fancy Nikons that produce such clear and perfect pictures.  Then I’ve really been wanting a king size bed for a while.  With Olivia we decided to co-sleep and space can get pretty tight with two adults and a baby in a queen size bed.  I have been trying to figure out how we could maybe afford a bigger bed before the next baby gets here.  On top of that, I’ve also been wanting a nice area rug for our living room.  I’ve wanted this for years.  It would just make the space look better and it is nice to have a warm rug to step on when winter sets in.  I’ve been eyeing this beautiful floral rug at Pottery Barn.  We could easily buy all three of these things with $3,600.

That’s why it is so darn hard to give money.  I don’t think any of the things I want are extravagant and, in general, would benefit our family.  It’s not like I want to use the money to buy a Rolex or anything like that.  It is easy to justify.

But when I stop and think about it, we don’t need any of these things.  That’s why we are called to tithe.  Because it is hard.  Because it makes us feel the pinch.  Because it requires sacrifice.  Sacrifice of those things it would be nice to have.

I don’t think it is bad to buy a new camera or a rug or a bigger bed but I can still donate money and buy these items, I’ll just have to save for them a bit longer.

I’m just as guilty as the next person of not tithing.  We stopped giving when we took on a mortgage and our financial future became unsure and we found out we were expecting a new little one.  There are tons of reasons that I think would justify keeping money.  But over and over again in the Gospels we hear that in order to be good in the eyes of God we have to put God before money, we have to detach ourselves from material possessions, we have to store up treasures in heaven instead of treasures on earth.

Man, is this hard to do but that is why we should give money.  Because it is only in this struggle that we can prove that we are not attached to money.  In the struggle we learn to see what is needed and what is not needed.  In the struggle we become more of what God wants us to become.  And that person that God wants us to become maybe doesn’t have a Pottery Barn rug.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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  • Wayne

    Salle, thank you.

  • Sallie

    @Wayne — I find that God gives to me in unexpected ways, all the time, every day. My tithe is not so that will happen – my tithe is both because God asks it of us, and because I want to say thank you.

  • Wayne

    I hava a question rather than a comment. Those who do tithe, do you find God gives to you in unexpected ways?

  • Meagan F

    What great courage you have, Vanessa! It’s hard to admit this particular blind spot as a failure rather than a reasonable accommodation for right now. It’s an easy trap for many people. And you’re a wonderful writer — that last line will stick with me awhile :-)

  • Susan

    Excellent post. My husband grew up Southern Baptist, which has a much stronger tithing tradition than Catholicism. His mom’s church’s weekly collection is about the same as our much larger Catholic church, even though the demographic makeup of both churches is similar. Besides providing for the Church’s mission, I think regular tithing makes people feel more tied to the church community in general, and that same community is able to meet the emergency needs of individual members because they can rely on a regular collection. There is a LOT we can learn from other denominations.

    As for needing things, I often refer back to a comment of my neighbor, who raised 5 kids in a 1200 sq ft house with one bathroom – “We kept talking about putting on an addition, but if you talk long enough, you know longer need it.” And now in retirement she is not saddled with more house than she can take care of. Sometimes there is a freedom to not having too many things as long as you can afford basic needs and a few fun extras.

  • Kerry

    Tithing was a huge challenge to us but then someone said to us “If you can’t trust God with 10c in the dollar then what can you trust him with?” God challenges us to trust us in tithing so we decided to make the commitment. When we started we had 8 kids at home and an income of $32,000 a year. In four years our income has quadrupled and we still basically do the same thing. God moved the world around us. I can’t tell you how it feels to be able to sew money into peoples lives. We reakised we weren’t giving to the ‘Church’ but to the people. We help fund our youth minister, our Children’s Program, a charity that feeds starving kids, an organisation that teaches kids to resist gang culture and drugs and others as we feel He prompts us to. It is an awesomw priviledge. So trust him with 10%. You will never regret it.

  • Stephanie

    Great job Vanessa! You put the message of tithing in a very down-to-earth, modern example. It’s hard to give money but it’s hard to keep it sometimes too. And you made me smirk with your last line :) Keep ’em coming!

  • Grant Winney

    Wow, you really hit it on the head, Vanessa. We figured we were giving generously but we hadn’t really adjusted anything since getting a couple raises, and when I figured it out we were giving a few percent … not nearly 10. We’ve got two kids, plans to have more, and moved into a new home recently. So like you, we have a lot of “that’d be nice” things on the list. Giving is hard!!

  • James Oliver

    I give my 10% to Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, The Kalamazoo, MI Diocese and St. Mary’s Church, Marshall, MI. That money serves those in need at the level of the world, the country, the diocese and the community. I guess I figured I cannot wait for the next disaster to decide to donate some cash. There is always a need somewhere.

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