Pope Francis makes a point of displaying his poverty as a witness to the simplicity of the gospel, and it should make all of us stop for a moment and check our attitude to wealth.
In the United States the economy is booming and while there are plenty of people still living in poverty, the standard of living is high and the opportunities are abundant.
Should you therefore go out and make as much money as possible? Why not?
One of my grumbles about the Catholic faith is that we have too often interpreted the beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit” as “Blessed are the poor” which means “Poverty is blessed”
No. Sorry. There is not particular virtue in poverty in and of itself. In fact, poverty is bad. It is not good to be poor.
Furthermore, the poor are not blessed simply because they are poor. We can all think of poor people who are dishonest, cheaters, lazy and greedy thieves. Being poor does not, in and of itself, make you blessed, good, holy or superior in some way.
Nevertheless, St Francis embraced poverty and the Franciscans and Jesuits and other religious do take vows of poverty. This is not because poverty is blessed but because they are training themselves in detachment from personal possessions.
But we’re not all Franciscans and the Catholic clergy do not take vows of poverty. We are all called instead to a life of “apostolic simplicity.” The way I understand apostolic simplicity is that we have all that we need for our material health and well being. That simplicity is within the context of the society in which we live. In the wealthy USA we will probably have more stuff than if we were living as missionaries in the jungle, but wherever we are we should set an example of simplicity of life. Clergy should not be ostentatious with their wealth and should set an example of generosity in their giving.
What about lay people? Should the laity be poor?
I take an unusual and radical opinion on this, and it is admittedly, only an opinion. I think if a man or woman is so gifted in their ability to make money, that he or she should make just as much money as possible. Of course he should do it through honest hard work, shrewd intelligence and providing goods and services to others, but he should make as much money as he can and not be ashamed about it. I’d say, “Go on! Use your gifts! Make money! Make lots of money! Make as much money as you can!”
I’d also say, “Enjoy your money! Live a good and abundant life, thanking God for all the blessings you have received!”
Now here comes the bit you don’t like:
I’d also say, “Be as gung ho about giving your money away as you are about making it. Make lots of money so you can support the work of the gospel.” Use the same hard work, creativity, enterprise and enthusiasm that helped you make money to help you give that money away generously and joyfully. The Lord loves a cheerful giver!
Let me use my dear old Dad as an example. He was a Christian businessman. He owned about half a dozen men’s retail clothing stores in shopping malls. He worked hard, negotiated hard, played the game and made a good bit of money. But his whole life he gave away 15% of his income–even with five kids and even when the business was going through a barren patch.
Then when he started making more money he gave away an even larger percentage. He got involved in Christian missions, supported Christian youth work, backed apostolic efforts to spread the gospel and supported the work of his local church.
He did so with gusto, a kind of masculine “get go” and with huge hilarity. He loved giving to causes he believed in. He loved to see them grow and prosper. He loved working with the people who were busy serving God. Furthermore, he and my mom lived in what I would term apostolic simplicity. They were never flashy. They didn’t buy lots of stupid, expensive toys. They lived in a modest rancher home, drove the same car until it died a natural death, went on mission trip vacations and lived day by day the simple, prayerful, homespun kind of Christianity that is still dear to my heart.
Dad made a lot of money, but he always understood what it was for. It wasn’t his. He was the steward of those resources and he used it to support his wife and children, to give us a good life and to further the work of God in the world. He received much so that he could give much.
Listen and listen carefully. My Dad is the reason I am a Christian today. Do you want to evangelize? Then live like him. He showed me and many other people what it means to be a consistent and sacrificial and joyful Christian. He put his money where his mouth was. Literally.
He understood that the Bible does not say “Money is the root of all evil” but “the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” (I Timothy 6:10)
He considered money to be like manure: if you pile it up in one place it stinks, but if you spread it around it helps stuff grow.
This is the way that the laity can live simply: if you have the gift of making money–go for it and then use it to do amazing things for God, and don’t just write checks. Get involved in the good causes you support. Pray for the good causes, get to know the people doing the work and be involved personally in the causes you support.
Sometimes people would question my Dad about making so much money and making so much profit. He’s say, “Sure I want to make as much money as possible…so I can spend it on doing the Lord’s work.”
And so he did. God bless him.
So get out there and make just as much money as you can….and then use it to fertilize and water God’s garden.