During a major forest fire in California some years ago, a young executive left work early and raced home to his house in the foothills, desperately hoping to save whatever he could from the flames. As he turned into the long driveway, he met his wife, who told him the fire was only a few hundreds yards from their barn out back, and appeared to be heading directly toward their house. They drove up the driveway together, and the husband asked her to rescue the dog and the cats from the house, while he went to free the horses from their stalls in the barn. After they had done this, the wife asked, “What shall we save now?,” only to have her husband answer, “Nothing.” As they drove off to safety, the man explained that while racing home from work, at first he had been anxious about all the items they needed to save from the flames—but upon seeing her, he realized what was truly important, and decided their only duty was to the living creatures: their horses, dog, and cats. All the rest was unimportant. “We don’t need material things in order to be happy,” the husband said, “and we mustn’t lose our freedom to them.”
The couple drove into the city, rented a room in a hotel, and waited for the fire to be brought under control. As they returned to their homesite the following day, they expected to discover a pile of charred ashes, but to their amazement and delight, everything was untouched; it turned out a sudden wind had redirected the fire when it was only a few yards from their house. After they thanked God and rounded up the animals, the husband said, “Perhaps if we had tried to save all our possessions, we would have lost them all; this may have been God’s way of showing us how unimportant they actually are” (Clayton C. Barbeau, The Father of the Family, p. 110). A great act of faith and self-surrender was generously rewarded by God. That always happens—in one form or another, spiritually or materially, sooner or later—because it’s the Lord’s very nature to be generous. As long as our hearts are open, He cannot help but bless us, and the sooner we decide to base our entire lives on this truth, the holier and happier we’ll be.
Even with an entire universe to oversee, God still takes the time to look upon and care for each one of us personally. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (49:14-15) contains a beautiful and reassuring promise, in which the Lord tells us, “Can a mother forget her infant. . . ? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” This idea of our Heavenly Father’s tenderness is echoed by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (6:24-34), for He tells us that God knows each of our needs, and is willing to provide for us even more wonderfully than He does for the birds of the sky and the lilies of the field—if only we seek first His Kingdom. Our primary concern mustn’t be the accumulation of wealth, but doing the will of God—for this is how we become truly rich in His sight. St. Paul (1 Cor 4:1-5) reminds us that the Lord will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and “manifest the motives of our hearts”–which means if we’ve tried to please Him, His judgment upon us will actually be the best possible grace we can ever receive.
All of us are stewards of God’s gifts, and St. Paul warns us today that it is “required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” How are we doing in this regard? Are we placing our trust in the Lord, and demonstrating it by the way we use the material blessings bestowed upon us? Do our spending priorities truly show that God is at the center of our lives?
I want to suggest everyone seriously consider the possibility of tithing, or giving God 10% of your income—ideally, 5% to the parish, and 5% to other charities of your choice. This is something I personally have been doing for years, and I can tell you from my own experience it works. You’d think that by giving away the first 10% of your income, you’d have less money to pay your bills, save for the future, and spend something on yourself—but just the opposite is true. When, by tithing, you put the Lord in charge of your finances, they somehow, almost miraculously, turn out better than before. Just as the forest fire was turned away from the home of the couple that surrendered everything to God, so it often seems the Lord is merely waiting for our concrete act of trust in Him before blessing us in new and unexpected ways. Almost everyone who practices this form of sacrificial giving will agree: tithing brings not only material blessings, but peace of mind. The tithing challenge I’m asking you to consider is simple: try it for just one month. If it doesn’t work for you, you’re in the clear, and can drop it in good conscience. If it does work for you, however, you’ll have discovered first-hand a very important lesson—one which will bring you great blessings and personal satisfaction for many years to come.
Our Heavenly Father is calling all of us to be good stewards of everything He has given us, including our money and our material possessions. As Jesus says, we can’t serve both God and mammon; therefore, we must choose where we’ll place our trust, and then demonstrate this commitment by our financial decisions and priorities. The Lord is eager to bless us in ways beyond our imagining, but we must take the first step—and if we have the love and trust and courage to do so, our lives will never again be the same.