My Culture

Woe to the Rich?

It often seems like the world revolves around money: making it, saving it, talking about it, spending it, fighting over it, voting about it, and more. It isn’t hard to see why when you consider that it is needed for almost everything. Basic necessities like food, medicine, clothing, and housing all cost money. A lot of other important things do too. Churches even pass around baskets at Mass asking for it. Plus, as a young person, I bet you have heard the importance of your education, or some of your extracurricular talents and athletic abilities, framed in terms of something along the lines of “so you can get into a good college” or “so you can get a well-paying job one day.” Perhaps this has made you start to realize that money is an inescapable reality that you won’t escape having to deal with. Or, maybe, you’ve already been dealing with it! That being said, we should take some time to consider what we are supposed to think, as Catholics, about money.

Luckily for us, this is one of the things that Jesus spoke on pretty frequently and was quite clear about. I think examining some of His words and actions as they are recorded in Sacred Scripture would be a good start. Let’s consider Matthew 19:16 – 28. To summarize, a young, rich man approaches Jesus and the disciples and asks what he needs to do to reach Heaven. Jesus lists off several commandments, such as not stealing and honoring your father and mother, to which the man responds, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus replies, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” After watching the young man become very sad and walk away, Jesus turns to his disciples and continues, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”

As you might imagine, it would be quite the endeavor to fit a whole camel through the eye of a needle. In fact, I think most reasonable people would use the word “impossible.” And, as such, this naturally evoked a shocked reaction among the disciples. Peter can’t help but exclaim, “…we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” Jesus answers that their reward will be worth 100 times more than everything that they have left behind and inherit eternal life. Sounds like a pretty good investment, right? I think so, but not everyone is going to see it this way right away.

In fact, there are a wide variety of initial reactions that people may have when hearing this story – and that is okay. After all, people come from a variety of different backgrounds and have different relationships with money. This was the case with a few of the apostles too! Just be aware that it may be tempting to allow your background, political views, or experiences with money to color the lessons you are tempted to take from Jesus’ lesson. It is important to realize that Jesus is not teaching that people with a lot of money are automatically bad and are surely destined to Hell. He is also not teaching that people that don’t have much money are automatically good and destined for Heaven. In fact, Jesus isn’t even teaching that money is inherently a good thing or a bad thing at all.

The biggest lesson that Jesus is trying to teach here is that loving anything more than God, including money, will make it extremely difficult to enter Heaven. That said, we can’t ignore that Jesus specifically called out and focused on a love of money on many different occasions. It is one of the easiest things for people to develop unhealthy and idolatrous relationships with. Since it is a tool that everyone needs in our world and isn’t inherently bad, it isn’t as obviously problematic as, say, a golden calf might be (Exodus 32). Money is a tool that can be used to accomplish very good things – like providing food for your family, medicine for someone who is sick, or even something of less importance that may bring someone a legitimate pleasure – like a book or a board game.

It is all too easy for Satan to trick us is into thinking that since it is something that everyone needs, and can be used for good, that you can never have enough of it and the security and pleasure that it can provide. Before long, your thoughts and actions begin to revolve around money. You become unwilling to spare any for those that have less than you. You become unwilling to spend your time on anything that doesn’t help you make more of it. You start depending on the benefits that money provides you or thinking that it will solve all of your problems instead of relying upon and trusting God. You don’t need me to tell you that these are all things that must be avoided at all costs. As Christ once preached, “…woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

With the love of money and the comforts it is capable of providing posing such a threat to all of us, what are some antidotes to keep a love of money at bay and, instead, looking at it as a tool to be desired and used in moderation? My first suggestion may sound a bit morbid or extreme, but stick with me. It is a timeless piece of advice that saint after saint has followed throughout the centuries: take some time to reflect on your death. When you acknowledge that you won’t live forever, you will find it easier to reconsider your priorities and the choices that you make in your day to day life. While reflecting, make sure to ask yourself some questions about your habits, goals, and, of course, financial decisions.

I’m sure you’ll see the benefits of framing things in this way and, in time, will learn what are worthwhile and fulfilling uses of your time and money and what isn’t. But, if this doesn’t seem like an easy thing to do, I understand that the reality of death is an uncomfortable part of life for the majority of people. If this is the case for you, try starting really small. Just visit a graveyard for a few minutes, try saying a prayer for a deceased relative or friend, or reflect on the life of your favorite saint. Over time, you’ll find that it gets easier.

Next, start to donate some of your money to any worthy cause, but most especially to your local parish. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, as Catholics, we are obligated to provide for the financial needs of our church and those less fortunate than us to the degree that we are able. Although it is very important, this requirement isn’t just to make sure that the local priest and parish staff gets paid or are able to keep various ministries running. It is also to help you learn to form a desire to help others. It helps you become generous, become willing to part with some of your money, and, in general, be a good steward of your financial resources. Don’t be afraid of this! The Church would never ask you to donate money that you can’t give or make irresponsible decisions that would harm you, your family, or your community. Nevertheless, I would invite you to seriously evaluate your priorities. If you don’t feel comfortable putting some of your allowance or earnings in the collection basket every week, but are somehow finding a way to pay for Spotify or Netflix each month, your priorities may be in need of an adjustment. Consider Jesus’ words in Luke 12:15, “…Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Photo by unsplash-logoAlexander Mils

About the Author

Trenton Mattingly

I'm from Kentucky and am adamant that it is the best state. I'm really into Catholic theology, angry rock music, and libraries but (mostly) not at the same time. I was once called a bad influence for helping teach a Franciscan friar how to skateboard and am pretty bummed that there isn't a St. Trenton, but hope to change that one day.

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