An article in The Tablet reports the following challenge by the Bishop of Portsmouth to the Catholics in his diocese, “I would like to invite every Catholic to consider tithing, that is donating 10 per cent of your time and talents to Christ’s service, especially the care of the needy,” Bishop Philip Egan wrote in a pastoral letter for Trinity Sunday, “It would be good if every pastoral area engaged in local works of charitable assistance, thus giving witness that the Jesus we love in the Eucharist is the Jesus we love in the poor.”
A great challenge, I thought. True Christian stewardship entails the sharing of time, talent and treasures. This is a more holistic approach than simply digging into our pockets for a financial donation. So, how much time would this entail?
I pulled out my calculator and began punching in numbers. Ten percent of ALL our time would be 16.8 hours a week. Not practical. Let’s take eight hours of sleep a night out of the equation. Ten percent of 112 hours a week is 11.2 hours tithed to charitable work; still not do-able for most. If we just take a normal 40 hour work week, ten percent would be a commitment of 4 hours a week. This, perhaps, is more manageable; if you are not already overwhelmed with work and family responsibilities.
I’ve always struggled with the concept of tithing as a flat rate, percentage calculation that doesn’t take into account the personal needs and responsibilities of each giver. A single person and a family of five can earn an equal salary. In each case, ten percent of that equal salary is not equal in sacrificial value. The same is true of our time.
Bishop Egan’s invitation to live gospel generosity in concrete works is a worthy and much needed message. The use of the concept of tithing makes for a good head-line, but the reality is that each person and each family has unique stresses and demands on their time, treasure and talents. These demands change through different life stages. Heck, they can change from week to week and day to day.
Time is one of our most precious commodities. We all have to discern wisely how to be good stewards with what has been given to us. God bless those who are able to give, and give generously. God bless even more those who give generously from limited resources.