MANY YEARS AGO I remember my late father, who was a Presbyterian from Northern Ireland, telling me that apparently at church services led by the Revd Dr Ian Paisley people were told by the legendary preacher just before the collection was taken that he didn’t want to hear any money go into the bag or the basket (I hasten to add that my father had never been to any of these services); in other words, he wanted people only to give banknotes rather than coins. It is an example of the pressure sometimes exerted upon worshippers to give a lot of money in the collection.
The fifth Precept of the Church, ‘You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church’ lays on Catholics the obligation ‘to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his or her own ability.’ (Catechism section 2042). Like other things which the Church asks us to do this is seen as an act of love towards the community which we hold to be at the centre of our lives, reflecting what the early apostles did by pooling their resources and building up the community. How we use money in relation to our faith will vary according to our vocation.
Members of religious orders or congregations, or Christians living in similar communities, commit themselves to giving up their material resources, giving them to the community. Laymen and women living in the world, responsible for families and children, are not usually able to live according to this calling (although there are examples); the Church simply asks you to give financially ‘according to your own ability’ to support the Church. This is not only the local parish community; part of what we give goes to the diocese, to the wider Church in our country, and to the ministry of the Church worldwide.
The Catholic community in this country has a long history of generous giving. Compared to some other churches here, and compared to Catholic churches in other parts of the world, we have few capital resources or investments to draw on, having been despoiled; so schools and churches have been built largely with money from ordinary Catholics. In our own parish people give generously, both on a regular basis and to special appeals. While we vigorously critique a society which is in many ways based on a love of money, where people are valued and judged on the basis of how much money they have, our financial giving is a sign of our commitment.
However the Church, perhaps because overall so many of our members are not wealthy, avoids the pitfalls of Dr Paisley and others. No Catholic priest would ever say what Dr Paisley said. Many of our people are on fixed or low incomes, they give generously to the Church ‘according to their ability’ – it is quite wrong for pressure to be put on people to give more. This is why also it is alien to the Catholic tradition, and quite wrong, for it to be suggested that Catholics have an obligation to tithe, that is, to give a tenth of their income to the Church (I have never known whether this is from net or gross income). It’s never been Church teaching and it’s unacceptable for people to be burdened or pressurised in this way.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that some should not consider whether they should give more: it depends on the circumstances of a person or a family. I think our giving levels have increased in this parish, and it’s also important that if we pay tax we gift aid what we give so that the Church, like any other charity, can recover the tax. But the bullying about money we see in some religious groups has no place in the Catholic Church. When some of these groups become wealthy, everything goes wrong.
When St Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 9:7) ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ he was quoting the book of Proverbs, but also trying to help his hearers see their giving to the Church as a source of joy and confidence. We should also express our gratitude to one another for the generosity of people’s giving.