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The Danger of Riches

Monopoly MoneyAt about 1:30 on a Friday afternoon 13 years ago, I took a break from work and sat down to eat a quick lunch.  While I was eating, I glanced through a multipage sales letter I had received from a company I had never heard of.  The owner of the company claimed that he was a multimillionaire, and he was promoting a three-day conference in Las Vegas, where (he promised) he would teach the “secrets” of how to become wealthy.

Toward the end of the letter there was a paragraph that stated, “If you’re a devout Catholic, a fundamentalist Christian, or a Muslim, don’t bother registering for the conference.  I don’t want to waste my time and energy arguing with you or listening to you lecture me about the evils of getting rich.  I’m serious.  I don’t want you to come to my conference, so don’t register.”

I was stunned by what the man had said.  I stopped and reread the paragraph.  Then I read it again.  The one word that jumped out at me was “devout.”  Why was he singling out devout Catholics?  Why not tell all Catholics that they weren’t welcome at his conference?  What was it about devout Catholics that made them incapable of learning how to become wealthy?

Until then, I had not given much thought to the difference between devout Catholics and all the other Catholics.  Of course, I knew there were individuals who called themselves Catholics but who intentionally chose not to abide by the rules they didn’t agree with.  But I never had any reason to believe that devout Catholics had beliefs about money and wealth that were different from those of other Catholics.

Since that experience, I’ve thought a lot about what differentiates a devout Catholic from other Catholics.  A couple of years ago in an article titled, “Cafeteria Catholics,” I wrote about the four categories of Catholics: (1) lapsed Catholics, (2) cafeteria Catholics, (3) committed Catholics, and (4) devout Catholics.

The distinctions I made between committed Catholics and devout Catholics were my own.  I defined a devout Catholic as “a committed Catholic who willfully and regularly engages in acts of worship and service that go beyond the requirements of the Church.”

I have come to the conclusion that based on their conditioning and what they have been taught, devout Catholics have beliefs about money that are different from those of the other three categories of Catholics — beliefs that force them into an adversarial relationship with money and wealth.  These beliefs are primarily based on several passages in the New Testament of the Bible.  These passages warn about the danger of riches.

I’m going to remind you of some of these passages and then ask a question that you may not have seriously considered before, so stick with me.

Prior to the birth of Jesus, when Elizabeth was greeted by the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit inspired Elizabeth to proclaim the greatness of God by saying, “He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.  He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.  He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”  Luke 1:51-53.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus warned about how riches were a hindrance to fully committing to the will of God, stating, “And the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts after other things entering in choke the word, and it is made fruitless.”  Mark 4:19.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encouraged His followers to build up “treasure in heaven” by selling their earthly goods and giving to the poor.  Luke 12:33.  To emphasize His point, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Luke 12:34.

It was St. Luke who focused most on our Lord’s particular concern for the poor and on the obligation of those who are blessed with riches to care for the poor, the naked, and the hungry.  In his story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, St. Luke told of the tax collector who welcomed Jesus into his home and said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wronged any man of anything, I restore him fourfold.”  Luke 19:8.

In the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus warned of the danger of storing up wealth:

The land of a certain rich man brought forth plenty of fruits.  And he thought within himself, saying: What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?  And he said: This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and will build greater; and into them will I gather all things that are grown to me, and my goods.  And I will say to my soul: Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.  Take thy rest; eat, drink, make good cheer.  But God said to him: Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee: and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?  Luke 12:16-20.

And finally, there’s the story about how the rich young man’s wealth held him back from following Jesus, despite the promise that he would enter into our Lord’s kingdom if he chose to follow Jesus:

[The young man] said: All these things have I kept from my youth.  Which when Jesus had heard, He said to him: Yet one thing is wanting to thee: sell all whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.  He having heard these things, became sorrowful; for he was very rich.  And Jesus, seeing him become sorrowful, said: How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God.  For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.  And they that heard it, said: Who then can be saved?  He said to them: The things that are impossible with men, are possible with God.  Luke 18:21-27.

The dictionary defines the word “rich” as “having a great deal of money or assets; wealthy.”

Here’s my question for you: How do you define the word “rich”?  Having a great deal of money is not a sufficient definition, because everyone has a different opinion as to what constitutes “a great deal of money.”

So tell me, How do you define the word “rich”?  If a man has $10 million in the bank, is he rich?  How about $1 million or $500,000 or $250,000?

Don’t you think it’s important to know what the word “rich” means so that you don’t jeopardize your chances of entering into the kingdom of God?  I’ll continue my discussion on this topic next week.

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