Rich Bad, Poor Good? Is Wealth Good For Our Spiritual Health? | Mary Beth Bonacci | IgnatiusInsight.com
Rich Bad, Poor Good? Is Wealth Good For Our Spiritual Health? | Mary Beth Bonacci
If you haven't heard about it yet, Peggy Noonan has written
an amazingly wonderful book about Pope John Paul II called John Paul
the Great. I've actually only read one chapter, but it's
already given me a lot to think about.
The one quote that jumped
out at me wasn't even from JPII. It was from Michael Novak, who
was himself quoting the philosopher Jacques Maritain. The quote,
through all the paraphrasing, said that affluence inspires us to look
beyond the material to find meaning in our lives.
In other words,
it's when we have money that we realize that money doesn't fulfill
I can't say that I can speak from overwhelming direct
experience on this one. I have always been what one would consider
solidly middle class--well, sometimes much less solidly than
others. But I've always had food and shelter and a car to drive,
so compared to much of the world's population, I suppose I'm doing quite
We frequently associate poverty with piety. After
all, religious priests, brothers and sisters all take a vow of
poverty. Many of the saints lived in voluntary poverty.
Jesus Himself lived as a poor man. Combine that with the
oft-repeated saying that "money is the root of all evil" and it's not
too far a leap to conclude that the wealthy are somehow less sanctified
than those who struggle.
But alas, it isn't quite so simple. The "saying" is actually a
misquotation of 1 Timothy 6:10, which says "The love of money
is the root of all evil." (Italics mine.) That's different.
It's not having money that's evil. It's loving it, setting it up
as a god, making it the main goal or sole aim of one's
There are, of course, many wealthy people who make that
money the center of their lives. They are tempted by the "heresy
of materialism" to rely on their riches instead of on the Lord.
They become comfortable and confident in their material power, and they
forget that their entire lives are dependent on Him. Wealth can be
tremendously dangerous to the spiritual life for that very
But these dangers are by no means limited to the
rich. How many people with little or no money make the acquisition
and retention of money the centerpiece of their lives? In dealing
with others, how many people of every income bracket look primarily at
their own pocketbook instead of at the image and likeness of God in that
other person? How many think of more about personal gain than
about justice and fairness and "doing the right thing"?
ways, those who are poorer can be more tempted to make money a god
because they don't have much of it. They think that money would
solve all of their problems. Wealth is the "greener grass"
on the other side of the hill, where life is perfect.
It is, of
course, not universally true that all poor people make money a god, just
as it isn't true that all wealthy people or all middle class people or
all of any class of people make money a god. There are many,
many astonishingly generous people in the world who very little money
themselves. They give not from the excess, but from their
want. They go without so that others can have a little more.
God will surely reward them, far more handsomely than the will the rest
of us who donate only what is left over after we've satisfied our own
My point here is simple. The acquisition
of wealth doesn't automatically degrade a person's holiness. It can in
fact do exactly the opposite. As Michael Novak says, "It's exactly
because people have bread that they realize you can't live by bread
Acquiring wealth can be a very disillusioning
experience. When I first graduated from college, I worked in the
Silicon Valley, where very young men and women all around me were
becoming rich almost overnight thanks to generous salary and stock
option plans. I have rarely seen such a spiritually hungry group
of people. They discovered early on that money doesn't
satisfy the deeper longings of the human soul. Some turned to
religion. Others just dug in deeper, figuring the next million
might satisfy where the previous millions had failed.
all of those saints who lived lives of extreme poverty? Many of
them--Sts. Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi among them--actually
renounced significant wealth to embrace that poverty. They
realized clearly the truth that the rest of us are inclined to
Wealth will never satisfy the deepest desires of our
hearts. The "God-shaped hole" at the center our lives is meant to
be filled with Him. If we try to fill it with twenties and fifties
and stocks and bonds--or the pursuit thereof--we'll just clog it up
and keep Him out.
All of us--rich, poor and in-between--need to
figure that out.
This article originally appeared on RealLove.net
on December 10, 2006.
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Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks
and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken
to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at
World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and
television programs, including several appearances on MTV.
Mary Beth has written two books, We're
on a Mission from God and Real
Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications.
She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series,
also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex
and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award
for Best Youth Curriculum.
Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from
the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage
and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was
also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan
University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women
of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real
Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's
teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.
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