Sunday, February 18, 2024

Tithing Pitch

God loveth a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9.7).

A version of this exhortation was presented during Masses at St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend, Indiana, the weekend of February 10-11, 2024. 

When Nancy and I and our newborn son became parishioners here at St. Matt's nearly 30 years ago, we automatically signed up for collection envelopes. Automatically. As in: No question. For us, to be parishioners – actually, to be Catholic – necessarily included financially supporting the church, our spiritual home. 
That’s not some quirk of the Beckers – or some holdover from my youthful upbringing as a Protestant Christian. It’s in fact the teaching of the Church. As a convert, I discovered that fact through a little red booklet from Liguori Publications, Handbook for Today’s Catholic  the 1978 versionYou see, I joined the Church B.C. (Before the Catechism) and so handy references like my Liguori handbook were vital for navigating a new ecclesial universe.  

And what did I find in that booklet? Among other things, the Precepts of the Church – what the authors describe as “certain specific duties of Catholics” (cf. CCC 2041). Things like Sunday obligation and Easter duty – ideas certainly familiar to cradle Catholics. But there’s also a line about the duty to “strengthen and support the Church,” which naturally includes material support, usually in the form of money – our “tithes” in other words. 
Now, you might know that the idea of tithing is from the Old Testament requirement that God’s people set aside 10% of their income for the Temple and its upkeep. As Christians, we are dispensed from that specific figure, but the requirement to financially support the Church – both local and global – remains. Indeed, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that on “the first day of the week, each of you should set aside whatever one can afford” (I Cor. 16.2). Maybe that’s 10%, maybe not. But Paul makes it clear that giving something is mandatory – it’s not an option. 

That just makes sense for a number of reasons. First, as I said, our parish is our home. Truly. Yes, we come here for Mass every week, but we also come here for nourishment and challenge, camaraderie and inspiration. We come here because our friends are here – some new, some old, some we met when we first got here decades ago. Our kids received their sacraments and their education here. We’ve celebrated births, deaths, and every in-between milestone imaginable here. So, it’s a place we are happy to support with our prayers, yes, and also our cash. 

In our case, we choose to do that through literal tithing – through setting aside at least 10% of our income, and then half of that goes to St. Matt’s, and the other half to the bishop, the missions, and other charitable works. And here’s the thing: We take that 10% off the top before we pay anything else. It’s a priority, you see, and it stays a priority even when we feel the pinch. 

Like a number of years ago when I fell ill and couldn’t work – and I didn’t know when I’d be able to return to work. We had a house full of kids and a mortgage on that house, and I was scared. I went to my pastor looking for advice, but mainly looking for consolation and sympathy, and I enumerated my woes. Father listened, nodded sagely, and then spoke – not words of consolation, not sympathy, but truth: He said, “First of all, don’t stop tithing.” 

Don’t stop tithing? Didn’t he hear what I said? Shouldn’t I circle the wagons financially? Can’t the church go without my puny tithe until I get back to work? 

But Father was right, because our tithe, our commitment to support our parish isn’t just about the Church, but also about us and out trust in God. By tithing in good times and bad, sickness and health, we demonstrate our radical dependence on God as Father. 

It is said that God will not be outdone in generosity, and certainly that’s a common image in the Scriptures. Like in Luke, when Jesus says “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Lk 6.38). Even so, it’s hard to see in the moment how God will get us through this crisis or that, and our habit of tithing no matter what is a concrete way of declaring and embracing our abandonment to the Lord: We’re not in control; he is. 

So, regular giving to the church – whether it’s 10% or more or less, it doesn’t matter – has a twofold purpose. You’ll see one of them on the Commitment Card in your pew: At the top on one side it says, “Radiating Christ in the World,” and that’s true. Our support of the church and her ministries helps underwrite the extension of Christ through time and space, making him present here and now and into the future. 

But it’s also about receiving that radiation of Christ: The very act of sacrificing and setting aside part of our material wealth for the church manifests our reliance on God and predisposes us to grow in faith, hope, charity, to be ever conformed to Christ. It's not that we're paying God for grace; instead, we’re positioning ourselves to receive it. 

The bottom line is this: Odd as it may sound, regular, even sacrificial, giving to the Church is a gift – it’s a gift that I get to write out checks every month to St. Matt’s, and I’m happy to do it. If it’s not your regular practice, I invite you to try it and see for yourself. I’m pretty confident you won’t regret it.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Thanks, Riley Hospital! A Dance Marathon Testimonial

Nick lip-synching "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (with an assist from Dad) 

When I introduce myself to people, I generally lead with my primary vocation, my main gig, which is being a husband and a father. Yes, I’m a nurse and a nursing instructor, and I love that career trajectory that I finally got to in life (after multiple false starts), especially now that I’m here at Saint Mary’s – go belles! Belle yeah! But even that takes a back seat to my being married to Nancy and being dad to our seven kids.

Yes, seven kids! Does that sound like a lot? Maybe, but remember that for most families, most the time, kids come one at a time. With each addition to the family, there’s a surge of adjustment and scrambling and redeployments of energy and attention, but, as days and months go by, the craziness settles down, and the now bigger family gets used to a routine again…until the next baby arrives.

And that’s how it went with us, pretty much, until Nick’s arrival. Nick is my sixth child – my third son – and he has Down syndrome. As a nurse, I had a vague idea of what that would mean for him going forward in life – certain adjustments in developmental expectations and educational goals, for example – but not so much in terms of health.

That changed within hours after his birth. “Nick has Down syndrome,” our midwife told us. “He’s at high risk for heart defects, and you’ll have to get him checked out today.” The echocardiogram did indeed identify some defects – four, in fact – but the doctors determined that it was safe to wait on surgery until Nick was a little older, a little bigger and stronger.

A little older, bigger, and stronger turned out to be a couple months after Nick’s first birthday. He had become significantly lethargic, and no amount of sleep restored his usual pep and energy. When Nancy took him to the clinic for a checkup, little did we know that they’d end up heading down to Riley Children’s Hospital in an ambulance directly. The cardiologists there did a heart catheterization on my infant son, and the results led them to schedule open heart surgery for Nick right away.

After it was all done and Nicky was recovering in the pediatric ICU, the cardiothoracic surgeon gave us a rundown on everything he fixed: closing up this hole and that hole that shouldn’t been there, and re-routing Nick’s cardiac flow for optimal health. We thanked him profusely, of course – who wouldn’t? And Nancy still prays for him to this day, 18 years later.

Yes, 18 years later – and now here’s my Nick, 19 years old, and getting ready to move on from Marian High School. He’s living the dream, I tell you, and we’re all grateful to Riley Hospital and the great team there for preserving Nick’s life during those critical days of his youth.

As a dad, I have to say that I’m especially grateful. One of the main jobs of a dad is to protect his wife and children – to be the firewall, either literally or figuratively, between his family and all that would harm them. But in Nick’s case, as his little one-year-old body struggled to thrive despite his broken heart, I couldn’t be that firewall: I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to save him; I needed help.

Riley Children’s Hospital was the help Nick needed, the answer to our prayers. Thanks, Riley, for being part of our family’s story, Nick’s story. And now, here’s Nick to tell you more of his story himself!

Nick was privileged to share his story at the 2023 Saint Mary's College Riley Dance Marathon on April 15. The annual event raises funds for Riley Hospital for Children, which treats children from our area and provides critical life-saving treatments and healthcare services for children and their families.  For more information or to make a donation, follow this link

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Share the Vision: A School Choice Testimony

The Marian community has been an ideal place for Nick to grow into his purpose and be part of helping others grow into theirs.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Why I Had a Mass Offered for Janis Joplin

“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead,
that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Mc 12.46).

One Meal a Day: Not Just for Monks Anymore

“Fasting is the helm of human life and governs the whole ship of our body.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Jim Eder (1940-2023): Conjurer of Community

“Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust,
where there is companionship.”

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Father Stu: The Language of Love

“To boast in the Cross is an almost fierce gesture
when we confront all that would defeat us.”