Saturday, December 11, 1999

Are there any wealthy people in heaven?

First published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, 12/11/99.

I have just begun reading a book entitled God Wants You To Be Rich by the economist Paul Zane Pilzer. Just the fact that I’m reading it brings a smile to my face and a bit of a laugh at myself. Just a few years ago in my “Birkenstock days”, I was extolling the virtues of wearing thrift-store clothing and joining in the wealth-bashing that was common in my circle of pseudo-poor intelligensia. (What was really stupid is that though we all wore sandals as a way of  identifying with the poor, they were Birkenstock sandals, and as you may know, you can buy 3 pairs of shoes for the price of a pair of Birkenstocks.)
But such is the age of infinite intelligence, that period of time that starts somewhere in high school and usually (hopefully) ends after our 2nd or 3rd child. Nothing like having children and raising a family to get you thinking differently about a lot of things, most of all about money. 
But money is one of those subjects, like sex and parenting, that we don’t get much help on.  We’re supposed to figure it out on our own and we graduate from high school knowing more about dissecting frogs and solving trigonomic equations than we do about balancing our checkbooks. And while it may be true that  “money can’t buy love”, it’s usually not an argument over the location of a frog’s left ventricle that begins to unravel a marriage. 
Given the ever increasing financial stresses and strains of our modern predicament and the consequent scars left on marital and family relations due to quarrels induced by fiscal stress, our Church could do much for the betterment of marital and family life by the preaching and teaching of a proper Catholic perspective on the creation and management of wealth.
However, more often than not, we are treated from the Sunday pulpit with a regular fare of  something that amounts to “blessed are the poor in pocket”, followed by the inevitable passing of the basket. (And then we wonder why people only put in 1’s and 5’s.) I personally  have yet to hear any sort of teaching from teacher or preacher on the parish level that expounds on the financial in a positive vein. The business man or wealthy person is usually the bad guy in the story and more often than not is turned away at St. Peter’s gate. But who does the pastor go to when the parish needs a new roof?
I say on the parish level because I have heard and read some great things concerning the proper function of business, the free market, and profits taught and published by Catholic teachers. Our very own Pope is one of them. His encyclical, “Centesimus Annus” makes a case for the free market system tempered by strong moral and ethical principles and extols the roll of business in promoting a free society. (He lived most of his life in a society that wasn’t free.)
Another excellent teacher on the subject is Fr. Robert Sirico who’s Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is dedicated to the education of the clergy on the role of the free market in promoting a free society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. You can access some very enlightening information at the Institute’s web site at www.acton.org.
But meanwhile, let’s stop pretending that creating wealth isn’t important. It is. It’s what we use to fulfill our biblical responsibilities to “provide and protect”. It’s what we use to build our churches, schools, libraries, convents, monasteries, and hospitals. It even buys the very bread and wine that becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus at Mass. It’s what we use to advance the Kingdom as He commanded. We need money and we need more of it. But the key word here is “use”. Financial wealth is a tool and, like all things material, was given to us by God to be used for the greater glory of God...”ad majoriam gloriam”. 
So let’s hear about the rich man who did go to heaven. I’m sure there are many.
Tim Rohr
December 11, 1999

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