We should be clear. Poverty is not a virtue on its own. The poor are not blessed because they are poor.
We should remember that poor people can also be greedy, selfish, violent and bitter in their poverty.
“Faux Franciscanism” nurtures the mistaken idea that being poor is virtuous for its own sake. It’s not. The vow of poverty is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, and the that end is to provide a prophetic witness to the world and to nurture true detachment within the heart of the avowed.
One of the negative side effects of “faux Franciscanism” is that church people think everything about the Catholic faith has to be not only poor, but cheap, or poor quality and nasty workmanship. If you’re not careful you end up with cheaply built buildings that are poorly repaired and about to fall down. You end up with dirty, trashy facilities and mistake trash for holy poverty.
“Faux Franciscanism” sometimes also leads to a kind of fake, ostentatious poverty. “Oh! look how poor I am!” says the poor priest. “I live on only ten dollars a day!” While we all know he gets his house, health insurance, pension plan, car, phone and groceries on the parish.
However, far be it from me (the chief hypocrite) for pointing out the hypocrisy of others.
Rather than ranting on about “faux Franciscanism” I thought it would be more positive and cheerful to offer ten principles of a proper attitude to personal wealth.
1. It’s Not Yours – Your money and your personal possessions aren’t yours. They are a gift. Even if you have worked hard and been smart with your money, where did you get the brains, education and world view to work that hard and be that smart? It was given to you. God gave you those gifts. Therefore what you have is a gift. That’s the first principle.
2. Wealth is Good if you Are Good – To hold money and possessions well you have to be a virtuous person. If you are a selfish, greedy person your wealth will be a curse, not a blessing. Pursue virtue so that you might use your wealth properly. For a virtuous person wealth leads to greater virtue. For a bad person wealth destroys them further.
3. You Are A Steward Not an Owner – Remember. They don’t put pockets in shrouds. You’re going to leave it all behind. All of it. Therefore, decide to recognize what is true–the wealth and possessions you think you own you do not own. You are simply the caretaker. You’re the steward. What matters is not what wealth you have, but what good you do with it.
4. Detachment is the True Virtue of Poverty – Being poor is not a virtue for its own sake, but the reason the gospel and the pope and the saints stress poverty is because poverty can teach us to be detached from material wealth and possessions and focus our attention on higher things. This is called the virtue of detachment. Detachment is not the same thing as poverty. It is a spiritual condition in which “nothing is preferred to the love of Christ.”