Catholics are called to help others in need and to give up what they have for others. However, we do not all give for the same reasons or in the same manner. I've generated a list of general forms of giving and would like to know if they are all equally good according to Catholic doctrine. Those answering must provide a good explanation of why any on the list are more or less morally good based on scripture and Church teaching.

The list:

  • Not giving to the poor
  • Giving to the rich
  • Giving to the poor for financial gain / tax break
  • Giving to the poor for cred (someone sees you doing it)
  • Giving to the poor because it "makes me feel good"
  • Giving to the poor for no apparent reason (w/out thinking deeply about it)
  • Giving to the poor with the belief that it's the right thing to do
  • Giving to the poor because you personally witness another in need or suffering
  • Giving to the poor as a form of prayer or penance

Note: I'm using "poor" in a general sense -- poor in possessions, health, spirit, etc.

  • This is not the type of question we answer here. I encourage you to take our tour, and browse the site a while, to see a bit how we operate. In short, this question is soliciting opinions, and thus off-topic. – Flimzy May 3 '16 at 17:51
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Though your question is an interesting one, it's not a good fit for this site, which is mostly about the beliefs of particular Christian denominations, and the biblical basis of those beliefs. See: What topics can I ask about here? and: How we are different than other sites. – Lee Woofenden May 3 '16 at 17:52
  • @LeeWoofenden. Fixed. Please change your vote accordingly or suggest further (legitimate) modification. Thanks. – theforestecologist May 3 '16 at 18:06
  • 1
    Thanks for editing your question. However, for it to work here, you would need to specify a particular denomination, such as the Roman Catholic Church, whose answer you want. Alternatively, you could ask for the biblical basis of a particular view such as that these are all equally morally good, or that they are not all equally morally good--but not both in the same question. However, that might be a tough question to answer well. Incidentally, I'm not one of the downvoters, though I did vote to close the question as primarily opinion-based. – Lee Woofenden May 3 '16 at 18:27
  • 1
    I have further clarified/edited your question, and removed my downvote. – Flimzy May 3 '16 at 18:36

The morality of an act depends on three things what is done (the object), why it is done (the intention) and the circumstances.

1750 The morality of human acts depends on:

  • the object chosen;
  • the end in view or the intention;
  • the circumstances of the action.

The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the "sources," or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.

CCC #1750

All three need to be good or neutral in order for an act to be moral. So a bad intention can make an outwardly good act immoral.

1755 A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting "in order to be seen by men").

The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts - such as fornication - that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.

CCC #1755 (bold is mine)

Giving to the poor has a good object and (presumably) circumstances so the morality will depend on the intention. Out of the list provided that mentions the poor, based on the example given in the CCC I would say

  • Giving to the poor for cred (someone sees you doing it)
  • Giving to the poor for financial gain / tax break
  • Giving to the poor because it "makes me feel good"

would be bad intentions and therefore would render the act immoral. I'm fairly confident on the first two, but not so sure about the third. It may be neutral.

  • Giving to the poor for no apparent reason (w/out thinking deeply about it)

would be neutral and the act would remain moral.

  • Giving to the poor with the belief that it's the right thing to do
  • Giving to the poor because you personally witness another in need or suffering
  • Giving to the poor as a form of prayer or penance

would be good and the act would remain good.

Giving to the rich would be morally neutral in the object, so the morality would depend on intent and circumstances.

  • Thanks! I just spoke with a good priest friend of mine that keyed me into the object/intention/circumstance thing. I was about to add it as an answer but saw you already had. I'd say this is probably the best approach to answering this question – theforestecologist May 5 '16 at 1:09
  • Giving to the poor for a tax break might be good. It would depend on what the government is likely to do with your tax money. (It might also depend on what the poor are likely to do with your alms.) – Andreas Blass May 5 '16 at 21:02
  • I would consider what the poor person does to be part of the circumstances. My thought on the tax break was that the motive seems selfish. – Belinda May 5 '16 at 21:16

There are some obvious things that could be said about this question (the Bible citations for why anyone would do or not do these specific things are pretty easy). A few less obvious things to bring up with this question:

Catholics (as do many Christians and non-Christians) value the virtue of prudence - it is not enough to know that a certain act is just, but how to balance between two just acts. The approach of the Catholic Church is not to spell out every last act, but rather to lay out a pattern for formation of one's conscience. To try to lay out every decision anyone could ever make would (1) be inflexible to changing conditions, (2) would not allow the laity to take advantage of their own expertise in certain areas. So, there is no simple ranking available, since the particulars of one's situation matter.

Some of the things you list clearly are valued less though. As Bishop Robert Barron often says, giving to others while expecting something in return is just indirect egotism.

Of course, Not giving to the poor is just anytime you spend money on anything else. There are good reasons to spend money on other things. Again, to cite Bishop Barron:

From the very beginning of the Church, Christians have wondered whether it is legitimate for the disciples of the poor Christ to spend large amounts of money on works of art and architecture. I am sure that, in the New York of the nineteenth century, there were some who thought that the funds dedicated to the building of St. Patrick’s should have been diverted to the hungry, the homeless, and the sick. To be sure, one of the essential tasks of Jesus’ Church is to care for the materially poor. But as Pope Benedict specified, there are two other ecclesial tasks that remain co-essential, namely worshipping God and evangelizing. The life of the Church is healthiest precisely when these three are kept in a mutually enhancing and mutually correcting relationship; it would certainly be incorrect, therefore, to allow the service dimension of the Church to trump the other two. Reynold Hillenbrand, rector of Mundelein Seminary in the 1930’s, said, “The poor need beauty as much as they need food and drink.”

One framework Catholics use is the Corporal and Spiritual acts of mercy. Some of the things you ask about are listed there explicitly. Again, these are not prioritized, but rather its a list of laudable works that should be practiced.


St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the question "To whom should we give alms?" in Summa Theologica II-II q. 32 a. 9 c.:

As Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 28), "it falls to us by lot, as it were, to have to look to the welfare of those who are more closely united to us." Nevertheless in this matter we must employ discretion, according to the various degrees of connection, holiness and utility. For we ought to give alms to one who is much holier and in greater want, and to one who is more useful to the common weal, rather than to one who is more closely united to us, especially if the latter be not very closely united, and has no special claim on our care then and there, and who is not in very urgent need.

  • Is this a case of "charity begins at home" or am I oversimplifying that? – KorvinStarmast May 4 '16 at 16:23
  • @KorvinStarmast Yes, that's right; there's an order to charity. – Geremia May 4 '16 at 20:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.