Balancing the Budget

That these past two to three years has brought financial stress on us all needs no further illumination. We feel it in our bank accounts and see it on the news every night—especially now as the federal government endeavors to craft a new budget.

Our congressional representatives must wrangle with difficult choices as they try to balance tax revenues with where to cut expenses. One area under scrutiny is “discretionary spending”. In other words, areas they subjectively deem non-essential government spending.

What if the brunt of those cuts comes out of social programs? What if the government claims “Raqa”?

Raqa is a Hebrew term meaning to break out, to stretch. In 2 Samuel 22: 43 David praises the Lord for delivering him from his enemies and translates Raqa as, “I beat them fine like dust…stamped them down like the mire of the streets.” Our representatives must pursue budgetary expenses like enemies and beat them out.

In an effort to protect social spending, Bishops around the country are urging congressional representatives to heed the plight of the poor and maintain funding for social programs. Many directors of diocesan charitable offices express concern that they don’t have the capacity to absorb the needs created by budget cuts.

What is the Role of Government?
What will we, the church, do if the government reduces or eliminates programs that provide support to the poor? Will we step up to fill any gaps in responding to the needs of the most vulnerable among us, the least of our brothers and sisters? Should the Bishops’ efforts to persuade officials to keep social programs as a spending priority be instead directed at us to influence our own spending?

Anecdotal observation tells me that if we, the people of God—the church, would prioritize our spending in line with the Biblical teaching of Tithing, the weekly collection at local parishes would increase three-fold. What tremendous good for our communities could we accomplish with such a windfall of resources?

Too idealistic? Naïve? Too unrealistic? Not if we live according to what we believe.
There are many Bible passages that teach us the command to tithe. One to consider is Numbers 18: 29 “From all the gifts that you receive, and from the best parts, you are to consecrate to the Lord your own full contribution.”

I know your hesitation, the obstacles you put up to justify ignoring God’s teaching. I live with them myself. Let‘s explore the most common objections.

“I can’t afford to give any more to the Church. My budget is already stretched to the breaking point.”

This concern boils down to an issue of trust. It is a leap of faith to begin to prioritize our spending and give ten-percent, the full contribution, to charity. Malichi admonishes us in chapter 3, verses 8-10, “Yet you are robbing me. And you say, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and in offerings…Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…and try me in this, says the Lord of hosts. Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven to pour out blessing upon you without measure?”

Here’s another. “Much of my tax dollars goes to welfare already, and I pay more than enough in taxes. So, I don’t need to give.”

Various websites report that anywhere from 2 to 20 percent of government spending supports welfare programs—depending on how welfare spending is defined. Has this spending eradicated poverty? Are government programs generally efficient? And anyway, in Matthew 22: 21 Jesus tells us, “to pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God.” Relying on government to provide welfare for the poor is an abdication of our responsibility to take care of one another.

It is our time to determine who we are as Catholic Christian people. It is our opportunity to decide what we want our government to do for us and what we will do for ourselves and each other. If we embrace tithing as the foundation of financial stewardship, we live in thankfulness for all God gives and in trust that He will provide. We rely on the blessings of God and not on the fickle benevolence of government. And from those blessings, we will in turn bless our neighbors in need.