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Wealth and the Christian call to poverty  

MATTHEW PINTO

Q: If we are supposed to leave everything and follow God, how come our churches are so exquisite and the people within the church so wealthy?

A:The passage of Scripture you refer to concerns the need for everyone who would follow Christ to be detached from possessions (Mt. 10:37–39, 19:21–24, CCC 226, 2053). For some of us, according to our vocation, that detachment takes the form of giving up personal ownership of material possessions (Mt. 6:19, Lk. 12:32–34). For others, personal possessions may be kept and even enjoyed, so long as they are properly used and do not become our “god” (Lk. 16:13–14, Eccl. 5:18–19).

For some people, like the rich young man in St. Mark's Gospel (Mk. 10:17–25), wealth was so important it was really an idol — a false god. To follow Christ, such people must turn away from their idol, which may sometimes require them to sell everything. But not everyone can or should do that (Sir. 13:23, 31:8–11). Parents, for example, can’t give away everything they own. How would they fulfill their God-given responsibility to feed and clothe their children (1 Tim. 5:8)? Nevertheless, they should use their possessions with an attitude of willingness to give up everything should it be asked of them (Mt. 6:19, CCC 2113, 2424). In short, they should serve God, not money (Mt. 6:24).

Regarding the “exquisite” churches and the “wealthy” people who worship in them, several things must be said. First, there's nothing wrong with having beautiful, well-designed churches. Jesus Himself worshipped in the Jerusalem Temple, which was certainly exquisite and expensive (1 Kgs. 6). While He condemned the moneychangers for turning it into a marketplace (Mt. 21:12–13, Mk. 11:15–17), He never rejected the Temple on the grounds it was ornate or costly.

Also, when Judas objected that the expensive oil used to anoint Christ should be sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus didn’t agree (John 12:3–8). So, we are allowed to spend money, even large amounts, for things that honor God (Lk. 16:1–9).

Second, not everyone who attends a beautiful, expensive church is wealthy. A wonderful thing about the great cathedrals and churches is that they are for everyone, poor as well as rich. All are welcome there, where greatness is measured not by how much money one has but by how much love for God and man he has in his heart (Rev. 2:9, 1 Cor. 1:4–5, Jas. 2:1–5, CCC 952).

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Matthew Pinto "Wealth and the Christian call to poverty" Apologetics: "Question of the Week" Ascension Press.

Reprinted with permission of Matthew Pinto and Ascension Press.

THE AUTHOR

Matthew Pinto is a co-founder of CatholicExchange.com, a premiere Internet portal for Catholics. He is also a co-founder and former president of Envoy Magazine, which received the 1st Place award for General Interest Catholic magazines in 1998 and 1999 from the Catholic Press Association. The co-author of Amazing Grace for Those Who Suffer (Ascension Press, 2002) and Did Adam and Eve have Belly Buttons?… and 199 other questions from Catholic Teenagers (Ascension Press, 1998) and creator and co-author of the Friendly Defenders Catholic Flash Cards, Matt is a well-known speaker whose work has focused primarily on youth and young adults.

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