Spirituality of Money

In a rural county, a handful of residents offered $45,000 in donations to build fire stations for small towns in their area so that homes and businesses would have access to fire fighting services if needed.

At a major polytechnic university, officials were pleasantly surprised when they received $5 million from an anonymous donor. The gift will be used to establish a health information management program for undergraduate students.

Upon learning that a civic organization working with paralyzed military veterans was low on funding, an avid motorcyclist sold off his prized motorcycle and donated the entire $15,000 to that organization.

These true examples show that donations come in various sizes and various forms and are given to various organizations. Yet, anxiety and fear about the economy prompt some people to be hesitant, even neglectful, about giving. Nevertheless, every person has the ability to give something and to help in some way. Here are some guidelines priests can offer for developing a stronger spirituality of money.

Spiritual Obligation

Giving is a spiritual obligation. The Bible is clear: people of faith are obligated to give, and those who do so are especially noted and blessed by God. Consider these biblical texts:

• Deuteronomy 15:7 — “Don’t be mean and selfish with your money.”

• 2 Corinthians 9:7 — “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

• Isaiah 58:10 —“If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

• Psalm 112:9 — “They will always be remembered and greatly praised, because they were kind and freely gave to the poor.”

• Deuteronomy 15:14 — “The more the Lord has given you, the more you should give them.”

• Proverbs 29:7 — “The wicked don’t care about the rights of the poor, but good people do.”

• Proverbs 14:21 — “God blesses everyone who is kind to the poor.”

No One Is Exempt

Furthermore, the Bible does not provide exemptions to anyone from the responsibility of giving. Even those with modest means are commended for assisting with their meager resources. Jesus himself was impressed by a small donation from a very poor woman, using her example to teach the disciples an important lesson about giving.

The account is found in Luke 21:1-4: “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put into very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had. . . .’ ”

Giving is the antidote to greed and consumerism. Those who share with others demonstrate that they are successfully resisting greed and a consumer mentality. They are more interested in raising their standard of giving rather than raising their standard of living.

In his book Jesus and Money, Ben Witherington tells of his grandparents who were “profoundly committed Christians, dedicated to serving others even when they had little.” During the height of the depression years, his grandfather gave $6 a week to the poor and indigent at a time when his firefighter salary was only $20 per week.

Of his grandfather, Witherington proudly writes, “He did not allow his culture to determine his approach to money, wealth, work, remuneration and the like. He sat lightly with possessions, and never felt compelled to shop until he dropped. He gave sacrificially not only to his church but to many others as well.”

Growing Spiritually

Giving is a way of growing spiritually. Conduct an examination of conscience concerning your attitude toward giving by asking these kinds of questions:

• Am I a cheerful giver or a grudging one?
• Do I give liberally or minimally?
• Do I give freely or am I hesitant in responding?
• Am I generous and magnanimous or am I tightfisted and miserly?
• Do I truly feel blessed whenever I give or is there resentment?

The answer to such questions determines whether or not we put our whole heart into our giving. That examination of conscience helps ascertain whether our giving is truly sincere and from the heart or merely superficial, customary and expected. Your giving can empower you to grow spiritually.

Giving helps us establish a healthy relationship with money. In his book Secular Sanctity, Rev. Edward Hays identifies five specific ways that givers have a balanced and healthy relationship with their money.

• First, “we should love our money and take pride in it,” he says. Money is a symbol of work well done.

• Second, he says money earned is rightly spent “to nourish our bodies, so part of our income goes for food, clothing, shelter, and also for entertainment. . .this expression of self-love is good and holy.”

• Third, he notes that money in a wallet or purse is also a sign of “the community to which you belong.” Thus, part of our money is used to pay taxes, “to build highways, pay teachers’ salaries and patch up the potholes in the street.”

• Fourth, Rev. Hays says that some of the taxed money is used rightly to support the elderly and the needy. “Part of you puts food on the plate of some aged man or woman or helps pay the rent of an elderly person.” By means of tax withholding “you are able to put flesh on the words that Jesus speaks about seeing Him in those who are in need.”

• Finally, some of our money is used on “gifts to those we love and to those organizations and activities we feel are important to the world and to growth of the human spirit.” He adds that whenever we give a gift of money we are saying “This is my body. . .this is me. . .this is my love.”

Expands Faith, Trust

Giving expands faith and trust. By sharing, we show that we live with a spirit of abundance and not a fearful spirit of hoarding. In his book Living Faith, former President Jimmy Carter addresses this very matter in a personal way, saying: “Many people my age have cautionary phrases deeply ingrained in us: A penny saved is a penny earned. Waste not, want not. Haste makes waste.”

Consequently, many people live cautiously, hesitantly and timidly. “Most of us still want to be sure we don’t give away too much, so we always parcel out a little at a time, making sure we hold back more that we night need.”

There is a down side to this mentality, Carter notes, in that we underestimate the gifts God has given us — “life, talent, ability, knowledge, freedom, influence, and plenty of opportunities to do something extraordinary.” He urges people to give generously so that faith and trust are expanded. “We have to remember that our lives will become shrunken if we act only from a cautious sense of duty. It is the reaching, the inspiration, the extra commitment that provide the foundation for a full and gratifying life.”

A Material Question and a Spiritual Question

Giving is a spiritual response to material needs. Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883) wisely taught: “A person should be more concerned with spiritual than with material matters, but another person’s material welfare is his own spiritual concern.” Similarly, the Russian Orthodox theologian Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948) wrote: “The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question.”

Giving returns blessings to the giver. This is something clearly taught by Jesus. “Give and it shall be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” are the words of Jesus in Luke 6:38. Similarly, Paul writes: “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor 9:6). The same teaching is found in the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes 11:1. “Be generous, and someday you will be rewarded.”

While the specific “reward” or blessing is not stated, what is identified is a spiritual law of reciprocity, that generosity and kindness given always return to us in some way. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that “it is in giving, that we receive.”

REV. PARACHIN grew up in Canada and graduated from the University of Toronto School of Theology. He is an ordained minister, journalist and author. He currently resides in Tulsa, Okla.