“It cannot be doubted that the poor can more easily attain the blessing
of humility than those who are rich. In the cases of the poor, the lack
worldly goods is often accompanied by a quiet gentleness, whereas the
rich are more prone to arrogance. Nevertheless, many wealthy people are
to use their abundance not to swell their own pride but to perform works
of benevolence. They consider their greatest gain what they spend to
alleviate the distress of others.”
St. Leo the Great
, Pope, (d. 461) Sermo
The reading for
Sunday, October 14, was the famous passage from Matthew about the rich
young man who asked the Lord what he needed to do to possess eternal
(10:17-30). He observed all the commandments. But the Lord told him to
sell what he had, give it to the poor, and follow him. He did not do so.
Paul II also used to love to talk on this passage to young men about
“what it is all about.” Many things are worth doing other than keeping
Benedict’s Angelus on this topic is quite instructive.
“Jesus teaches that it is most difficult for someone with riches to
Kingdom of God, but not impossible.” This “but not impossible” needs a
good deal of attention in today’s world. “Riches” have more and more
associated, not with particular rich persons, but with governmental
power to take riches through taxation and to redistribute them according
own criteria which is often contrary to the commandments that the rich
young man observed.
Moreover, we have governments going into
incalculable, debts in order to support welfare and health programs,
debts that undermine the whole stability of the financial market.
an excuse not to face the issue of cost and responsibility for what is
provided. Many modern states, democratically elected, refuse to face the
extravagance of their demands for being taken care of, for being
relatively rich, in other words. This government expansion is all done
in the name of
alleviating the poor.
We have in fact almost fifty percent of
our citizens who pay no income taxes at all, though everyone
pays sales tax and other such innovations of the government to secure its
own financing. We have this situation in a country wherein the poorest
any comparative standard, richer than most of the world’s poor.
Church is “on the side of the poor.” We hear much of a “preferential
for the poor.” Yet, what we do not hear addressed is how to increase
wealth so that everyone can be provided for by themselves participating
production. We talk of distribution but not production. That is, we want
to “distribute” what already exists, but not increase the total wealth
society so that one group is not seen as opposing the other but all
becoming richer, which is what happens in a sound economy.
the poor too often is translated into an excuse for increased
governmental power. The Church has paid far too little attention to this
poverty discussions and far too little to the dangers of such state
control of poverty alleviation. Sometimes it is argued that the only way
the poor is via government subsidies. This is usually the worst way.
Government assumes and absorbs the charity role. All government aid to the poor via
entitlements, subsidies, food stamps, or other means comes with a huge
political tag that, from a religious point of view, is no longer
are very obtuse in not realizing this danger.
It is of much
interest that Benedict, in 2012, gave the same answer that Pope
Leo the Great gave in the fifth century to the question of whether the
rich could in fact help the poor. Benedict’s words are almost identical
those of Leo cited above: “The history of the Church is full of examples
of rich people,” Benedict observes, “who have used their goods in an
evangelical manner, even approaching holiness.”
We live in a
time where poverty itself has become more and more politicized.
It has too often been made to seem that the only way to help the poor is
by government aid, not by enterprise, self-help, charity, and
many ways, the poor have taken the place of God in the modern world. It
is not just “helping” the poor, but helping them in a way that demands
political involvement and control.
The problem of “riches” that
this Gospel of Matthew always brings up looks very different
today when trillions of dollars and euros are in the hands of
governments to control and distribute according to criteria that have no
other basis but
political power. The passage in Matthew implied that it was only by God
doing “impossible” things that we could deal with the issue of the
of the rich. Our governments are now proposing themselves as capable of
doing such impossible things.
The original question
was whether a rich man could enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The question
today is whether a rich society by its taxation distribution laws can,
irresponsible debt, by its control of what citizens must do to be rich
by government distribution, can prevent whole peoples from ever knowing
caring about the Kingdom of God.