Wealth and Poverty

by Fr. Godfrey Bushmaker, O.Praem.


“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 

Perhaps we’ve heard these words of our Lord many times already and wondered how, practically speaking, we’re supposed to understand them.  Being very poor Himself, we may become a bit uneasy contemplating what our Lord would consider “rich.”  Would He include someone with merely a surplus?  How much surplus?  Could it really be so impossible for such a person to be saved?

It seems unlikely that our Lord’s focus would have been on material quantity, since this rises and falls according to God’s divine providence anyway.  No, our Lord would not condemn someone merely because of their wealth alone.  Like anything else in this world, material possessions (of whatever amount) are created by God and are Good.  The “evil” we associate with great wealth, in fact, refers to the way we make use of such wealth.  If money or other resources come into our possession (regardless of how they come), they’ve been passed on to us with God’s approval, and so they must be used in accord with His will.  Someone who has great wealth at their disposal has a greater responsibility to use it in a way that builds up God’s kingdom—especially with regard to those the Lord allows to cross their path. 

But when we fixate on the wealth itself and make a goal of its mere increase in-and-of itself, we’ve lost sight of its purpose and are in danger of misusing it.  We misuse wealth by giving our hearts over to it—not realizing that, in turning our heart toward wealth, in the same movement, we turn it away from God.  God is the proper object of our heart—it was designed specifically for the purpose of loving Him, and the heart’s reward for persevering in its purpose is that it will one day take possession of God—which is the only thing that can fully satisfy it.

When we set our heart, rather, on wealth or anything else, we forfeit that eventual possession of God, and He allows us to replace it with our preferred alternative—which, behind all the masks, is ultimately ourselves.  This, of course, is incompatible with a pure love of God, and so a soul that dies in such a state is forever unfit to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Unfortunately, these souls learn too late that the pious advice and warnings they disregarded during life were far more valuable than their earthly treasure.

In addition, let us note that, since God doesn’t condemn the mere ownership of possessions, but only our heart’s attachment to them, even people considered materially average or poor can sin in the same way if they cling to their possessions, meager though they may be.  Avarice can infect anyone.  Among those with “average” means it’s common to hear of friendships turning sour over a few dollars that were never repaid; families bitterly divided over the way an inheritance is divided, or stealing from the company as a way of getting even for a perceived slight.  These are signs of avarice—and even those who are destitute can end up practicing it by embracing a “survival-mode” attitude that ignores the rights of others.

Whether one is rich or poor makes no difference to God.  What matters is how they make use of what they have.  The poor beggar will be condemned alongside the rich miser if they were each fixated on material gain at the expense of charity and holiness.  On the other hand, if they use whatever resources or talents they have to serve others and build up God’s kingdom, such “wealth” won’t prevent them from passing through the needle’s eye into heaven.

When all is said and done, the root problem is living exclusively for this life without much concern for the next.  Our hearts cannot be set on two incompatible ends.  We can’t claim to be placing all our hope in Christ while living as if this world is all there is.

Our Lord is the model for our life—and He lived and worked with only one goal: to fulfill His Father’s will—even when it meant enduring the cross.  In other words, the goal of our Lord’s life was to die—not because He didn’t love His life, but because He loved our life more than His own—and wanted to make us exceedingly happy by being a part of it forever.  We have to adopt the same attitude toward this world’s goods as our Savior had toward His very life—namely, that they are goods given to us by God to use or invest in a way that furthers His interests.

If we use our worldly goods and talents to promote the sanctity of ourselves and others, then these temporal goods can actually obtain for us everlasting riches.  Whatever sacrifices we make to spread God’s kingdom on earth by extending His reign over human hearts will not go without its reward.  This is the kind of wealth we should set as our goal rather than the worldly wealth that so often captivates our imagination and ensnares us.

Let us pray that we may be wise in investing our worldly resources in a way that will earn a heavenly profit—not only for ourselves, but also for any who could benefit from our investment.

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