One day about 10 years ago, the Martinez family, St. Louis parishioners, received a sample roll of toilet paper in the mail.
They had never received one before, and they have never received one since. To most of us, this might seem like an insignificant occurrence, but for Susan and Glenn and their children, it marked a definitive confirmation of a leap of faith they had just agreed to take.
A few weeks before that toilet paper arrived in the mail, someone had spoken at Mass about the practice of tithing. Traditionally, tithing means offering a substantial portion of your income back to God. The offering is right off the top, the firstfruits of your income: you pay God before you pay yourself.
This attitude is important because it reflects a trust in the providence of God. That day at Mass, the parishioner shared how tithing had made a difference in their lives for the better and how God provided for their needs in unexpected ways. Moved by the story, the Martinez family began their own discernment process and decided to increase their parish contribution too.
Financially, things were already tight. A growing family, school tuition, groceries, cost of living -- those things wouldn’t change. Could they really afford to reduce the money available to provide for them? Susan recounts, “I remember thinking, ‘God, I know you will take care of us in the big picture, but if we need toilet paper, how will you provide that when we don't have money for it?’ Running out of toilet paper is still a big concern of mine, but at that time with so many kids, it was more than a concern… it was a fear!”
Within a week, that roll of toilet paper arrived in the mail. God showed the Martinezes that -- if they would trust him -- he would, in fact, provide for their needs, down to the smallest details, in unexpected (and even hilarious) ways.
Glenn and Susan shared this story with us and other couples during a marriage ministry event a few years after it happened. Inspired by their example, we began tithing ourselves, and God has shown us the same care and concern, over and over. Unexpected tax returns to cover an unexpected bill. The offer of a few hours of babysitting at exactly the right moment.
Tithing, or any kind of stepping out in faith, enables us to see God’s providence in our lives more clearly. As Christian author Francis Chan puts it, “God doesn't call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn't come through.” I am not promising that if you start tithing, money will start raining from the sky. (It might be toilet paper in the mail.) But I do promise that, if you start tithing, God will start showing up in your life in big and unmistakable ways.
Don’t get too hung up on the details. According to Catholic teaching, tithing doesn’t mean giving exactly ten percent. It means giving in a sacrificial way, from your own need and not from what is left over. It also includes your time and talent, along with your treasure.
In the Bible, as with the Martinez family and our own, God shows up, over and over. Tithing means giving like the widow who gave two copper coins, out of her poverty, everything she had to live on (Luke 21:1-4). It means giving like the widow who made bread for Elijah out of the very last scraps of her flour and oil (1 Kings 17:7-16). It means giving like the Macedonians, whom St. Paul celebrated for their generosity: “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2).
It means giving in trust and in love, knowing that God will support us if we make sacrifices to help build his kingdom.