Obligation to Give to the Poor

Salvete, omnes!

How much must Christians (I hate to say “are Christians obligated”) to give to the poor? After all, all Christians now have the ability, given modern convenience, to give to so many more ogranizations that help the poor and otherwise unfortunate. Also, there are so many needy organizations and individuals out there to which/whom we can give.

Are Christians obligated to give at least 10%? Around that much? Only what their heart leads them to give? (After all, I think I once read Paul saying that even giving itself can be a special “gift” or “calling” from God.)

Not only how much, but I might also add, “to whom”? Are we only obligated to give to the poor in our immediate area or are we obligated to give outside of our immediate area and, if the latter is the case, how much are we to give and how far are we to extend our influence?

I’ve hear doms respond to the “how much are we supposed to give” question with “what you can afford”, but, to me, this seems like a very vague answer. Does “however much you can afford” mean “as much as you can afford”, as in, we are to give the maximum amount we can afford to the poor and only live with bare necessities? Or, does it mean, “as much as is comfortable to you without it harming you/your lifestyle too much”? Or, rather, does this only mean that we are NOT obligated to give BEYOND what we can afford, again, whatever that means?

And, what of the extremely wealthy? I am told, having posted another thread asking whether extreme pleasure/wealth and even luxury was permitted as long as such is held in proper Christian perspective, that such was permissible for the Christian. IF we take someone who enjoys quite a bit of luxury/wealth/pleasure, but enjoys it with genuine thanksgiving for what he has, how much is that person required to give to the poor? Must he downgrade even this extreme lifestyle, though he enjoys it with sincere thanksgiving in order to give more to the poor? If so, how much must he downgrade it/

As I understand it, this is indeed an issue that theologians have grappled with for some time, so I am interested to know what folks think about it. Also, whether there is any official Church stance on it.

Gratias multas.

The first thing I must point out is that in Catholic teaching, the word “obligation” carries serious weight and should not be taken lightly.

I believe that a recent Pope said that being obstinately rich was a mortal sin. To me, this means if someone is reported to be rich but has their money tied up in assets that they really don’t own but are used to provide dignified jobs, it’s hard for me to say that’s mortally sinful just because there’s a lot.

Remember, just wage is important as well.

But I think the catch is those who give more as a percent of what they have a chance to merit more.

Getting back to obligation, my understanding is that Catholics are not required to tithe. We are called to be generous and give until hurts.

Ultimately, questions of “am I obligated to do this more or less subjective” topic I refer to a qualified spiritual director.

I find this one of the hardest questions to answer. My brother once admonished me for having too much money and that I should give a lot away. My brother walked to a different drum. I had to give him a suit for his own wedding. He had prepared a honeymoon of two weeks in an un-airconditioned caravan in Dubbo NSW in the middle of summer. He died leaving his wife in poverty. I, at least, shouted them a honeymoon in New Zealand for two weeks.
I explained to him that I had to accrue as much money for my family as I could as I knew I had a limited working life. I am now on 24 hour oxygen and at least my wife and child don’t starve. I believe our responsibility is to look after our family, now and in the future.
What is left over can be spent on little luxuries or in providing for the poor. I believe we please our Lord by any choice that benefits His poor and subjects us in humility to His Will.

In saying this, there are many professional charities that will take our money and waste it on administration with only a low percentage going to the specified good works. We must use our normal commercial discernment to winnow out the waste and ensure we do the greatest good. How much? We don’t tithe and we are exhorted as the aim of perfection to give all to the poor and come follow Him. Yet, we are taught that we should give so we feel the loss. I believe this is a wise middle path.
If we purposefully forgo some luxury or treat and put that money to good works we grow in the Spirit. If we forgo that offering we obtain our reward here and cannot expect any reward before God.
My view is that we are permitted to live within the normal parameters of our circumstances. If we live a reasonable middle class lifestyle we give our children the best opportunity to succeed and raise their own families in a balanced social sense. If we are obscenely wealthy it is perfectly alright as long as we justly earned that wealth. However, we would be wise in the circumstances to remember that it is difficult for the rich man to enter heaven.
It is a very difficult question for many of us living in a society like Australia where most people who own a home in a capital city are worth at least a million dollars and true utter poverty is seen only as tourists to India or some parts of America. (I know, just to see if you were awake,LOL) It comes down to our conscience. Look to His Will in all things.

Interested in this as well

This has made me “add up” what I give every month, in food donations, Christian sponsorship of 3 children in developing countries and at Mass. I would say it is about 10% of my monthly pension payment. I suppose the figure of 10% does enable us to make a rough estimate, which is helpful.

Then again, I could forego other things I don’t need and give more.

The answer is vague because it differs for everyone.
For some, 10% is not even missed. For others…it’s a genuine sacrifice.
Some can’t even give money without denying their children. Those people tend to be great volunteers of time and talent.
God simply wants us to make HIM the center and focus of our lives, in love, in generosity, and in using our talents and gifts.
You can’t say “this is the exact amount, now do do it”.
Read again the story of the Widow’s mite.

darn it! I posted again!
sigh. :blush:

You will find this to be a personal. So I would agree with what you stated later “Only what their heart leads them to give?”
On a side note in my opinion time is more valuable than treasure. What good is a soup kitchen full of food if no one is there to cook it or serve it.

This is a difficult one. Charity is big business in this country. So many charities are running on 60 to 80% administration costs you tend to wonder what on earth are they accomplishing. www.give.org is a pretty good place to start. It gives you full reports on the charities: compensation, paid staff, administration expenses and how much money makes it to the actual charity.

This once again is personal. I prefer to donate an animal, usually a hog, hoping to be able to afford an entire cow someday, to our local St. Vincent de Paul. No money changes hands to be spent in a way I do not want and I know it is actual food that makes it to our local poor.

I agree with doms. Remember though that you have an obligation to you and your family first. We are not required to live with the bare necessities. Having more motivates you to work hard which allows you to make more to have more, which is OK in my opinion as long as you remember that it also allows you to give more. Live on the bare necessities long enough and I can see you losing your motivation to work harder because you only need to make enough to afford the bare necessities. Also, bare necessities to you might not be the same bare necessities to me, so see how we can be opening another can of worms here.

Extreme wealth isn’t a sin, it is placing that wealth most important in your life that is the sin. This is the reason the rich man has a hard time entering into heaven. I would say it is not about how much you have it is more about how you earned it and what you do with it. On that note every individual is different and in the end only God can judge it we gave enough to the poor. However, he can also judge us if we didn’t take good enough care of our family as well.

Regarding* tithing* to the Church- the 10% - there is no general obligation to do such.


Rather one is to give “according to ones means” in support of the Church. That may be a great deal for some- or it may be not very much due to ones circumstances.

As to giving to the poor - yes we are also to give to the poor (etc). Indeed the Church has a preferential love for the poor.

It is not only an act of fraternal charity but is a work of justice.

As practical measure - it can be said to be that one is obligated to give from ones superfluidity (that is from “what remains” after ones needs) and that it can happen that one is at times obligated to even “at times” to give from ones “needs”.

There is still the need for prudence and judgment. Circumstances will differ with each.

Love for the poor is to be fostered - and immoderate love of riches or their selfish use is to be avoided.

Of course let us remember to live always according to love - according to agape - charity - and let us remember the various virtues such as generosity and solidarity with the poor…the corporal works of mercy…

“God loves a cheerful giver” - and as Jesus taught us “it is more blessed to give than receive”.

This is a very good question, and one that has always been on my heart. I think that every Christian should wrestle it and err on the side of caution.

Neither the New Testament nor the Church has really said anything definitive. That makes things a little harder for us. I think it is only recently that we can even say we HAVE an obligation to give to the poor, rather than just the option to give in love. The concept of social justice is relatively new in the Church. I think we can look forward to many thoughtful and wonderful things to come on this subject.

Because I am a Hebrew Catholic (a Jew who is a Catholic) I like to draw from my tribal traditions where I may be in doubt. Judaism has a lot to say about Tzedakah (Social Justice) since Jews began dealing with the topic since the days God gave the Torah to Moses. Do you mind if I call it Tzedakah? My Hebrew Catholicishness is coming out in me.

Most people have heard about the 10% tithe which was to support the poor and the levites – this is often the amount suggested to give to the Church which the church then turns around and gives much of it to the poor.

But the 10% tithe is only the beginning of Tzedakah. There are many, many other comandments in the Pentateuch revolving making sure we give our obligatory amount to the poor.
*]We are to not harvest the four corners of our fields, but leave the food there for the poor.
*]If food falls to the ground while we are harvesting, we are to leave it there for the poor.
*]If someone is hungry, they may come into a field or orchard and eat until they are no longer hungry ad this is not stealing.
How’s that for starters? What do you think the contemporary version of the third law would be? Can you imagine society if any homeless person could walk into a grocery store and eat until they were no longer hungry and it not be considered stealing?

As Israelite society became more urban and less agrarian, giving alms became a substitute for the above laws – you don’t get out of giving tzedakah just because you aren’t a farmer.

I hope this gives you some food for thought. It helps me.

Why do you assume giving to the poor means money? What about giving time to help them. What about praying for them?

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