Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wealth, the Vatican, the White House, Corporate Headquarters, and Cultural Values

I ran into it again this month, someone complaining that the Catholic Church should use all its wealth to help the poor. In this case, the folks in Haiti.

A couple Sundays ago, my family gave something extra at a second collection for Haiti relief efforts. The special collection had been announced well in advance, so that people would be prepared to give something extra. What my household gave wasn't much: and this town of 4,000 souls in central Minnesota isn't known for extreme wealth, so the entire collection probably won't be enough to satisfy the needs for more than a few people.

But there are something like 1,000,000,000 Catholics around. If each of us gives, a little: it adds up.

Doesn't the Church Teach Poverty?

The Catholic Church does teach poverty. Sort of.

But wealth isn't a bad thing. Take Saint Louis the Confessor, King of France, for example. If having wealth is bad - by itself - he was a hypocrite, and the Catholic Church is worse. As a feudal king, he owned France. Even in the 13th century: that was a lot of wealth. And he's recognized as a saint, for the way he used the hand he was dealt. (He wasn't perfect, by the way: Saints aren't perfect, they're heroic. (February 14, 2010))

It's okay to be wealthy: what matters is what you do with it.

It's also okay to be poor. If fact, we're called to be poor. Sort of.

Let's see what the Church has to say about poverty:
" 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, 4 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven....' "
(Jesus, Son of God, quoted in Matthew 5:3)

"The kingdom belongs to the poor and lowly, which means those who have accepted it with humble hearts. Jesus is sent to 'preach good news to the poor';253 he declares them blessed, for 'theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'254 To them-the 'little ones'-the Father is pleased to reveal what remains hidden from the wise and the learned.255 Jesus shares the life of the poor, from the cradle to the cross; he experiences hunger, thirst, and privation.256 Jesus identifies himself with the poor of every kind and makes active love toward them the condition for entering his kingdom.257"
(Catechism of the Catholic Chrurch, 544)

"Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use:
"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you.238"
(Catechism, 2445)
There's more about poverty: Catechism, 915, 2443, for starters.

And, no: I didn't miss the part about people who have "lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure...." I'm getting to what the Church has to say about wealth.

Now, if the Church is so concerned about the poor, why doesn't the Catholic Church step in, support the people's international movement against oppressor classes, and force compassion down the throats of those greedy monsters?

For starters, revolutions - any sort of war - tend to be a bit hard on the people involved. Which is a whole different topic. (see "About the Just War Doctrine" (June 7, 2009))

Wealth? The Church Says 'Don't Idolize Wealth'

Wealth isn't, as far as I can tell, considered a vice in the Catholic tradition. Idolizing wealth, or anything other that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is.
"The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement-however beneficial it may be-such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love:
"All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which the multitude of men pay an instinctive homage. They measure happiness by wealth; and by wealth they measure respectability. . . . It is a homage resulting from a profound faith . . . that with wealth he may do all things. Wealth is one idol of the day and notoriety is a second. . . . Notoriety, or the making of a noise in the world-it may be called 'newspaper fame'-has come to be considered a great good in itself, and a ground of veneration.24"
(Catechism, 1723)

"On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth.41 The 'talents' are not distributed equally.42"
(Catechism, 1936)
The way I've explained it to my kids is that life is a little like a card game. We all have a hand to play: and nobody has the same set of cards. If it looks like the deck is stacked, well: The dealer is God, and I'm not going to argue with the Lord of Hosts.

So: Poverty is Okay, Wealth is Okay: Why is the Pope's House So Fancy?

The Holy Father, the Pope, is head of the Catholic Church: the vicar of Christ.

He lives in a house that's so big, you could fit mine into one of the rooms. And he's got a fancy hat. Several of them. This is one he doesn't even wear:

(from Holy See Press Office, used w/o permission)

" The Triregnum (the Papal Tiara formed by three crowns symbolizing the triple power of the Pope: father of kings, governor of the world and Vicar of Christ) from the XVIII Century, with which the bronze statue of Saint Peter is crowned every June 29th, the feast day of the Saint.

"Use of the Tiara, a ritual during solemn ceremonies, was abandoned during the Papacy of Paul VI."

Pope Paul VI's papacy was 1963-1978. Quite a few things changed around that time.

Like wearing that fancy hat. That sort of thing changes as the millennia roll by. But the Church doesn't change its message: the Pope doesn't have the authority to do that. But the Church does accommodate local cultures. That's why there was an evergreen tree in Our Lady of the Angels church, down the street, around Christmas; and why liturgical dance is forbidden in Western cultures - and (now) tolerated or encouraged in some Eastern cultures.

So, why does the Holy Father wear fancy clothes and live in a big house?
It Goes With the Job
Here's my take on the question: The Pope wears uniforms for the same reason that generals do. It's a sign of rank and position. It helps identify the Holy Father as the head of the Church here on Earth.

About the Pope's big fancy house?

The American White House, England's Buckingham Palace, Liberia's Executive Mansion, and the residences of other heads of state are not, as a rule, particularly mediocre. People around the world seem to expect their leaders to live a bit better than they do.

I see it as a sort of status. After all, who wants 'foreigners' to think that the best we can afford for the [baron, king, president, whatever] is the same sort of place the rest of us live in?

Besides, that cluster of buildings on the Vaticanus Mons doesn't belong to the Pope. It's the official residence of the Holy Father, whoever he is at the moment. Like the uniforms, it goes with the job.

I wouldn't expect the President of this country to live in the sort of house I do. There wouldn't be room for the staff needed by this country's chief of state, for starters.

Considering that the Pope is the current spiritual leader of a little upwards of a billion people: I really don't think his official residence is all that fancy. And with the sort of economic clout you get when you can call on about 1/6 of humanity for help: I think we Catholics can pay the Holy Father's household expenses and help Haiti, too.

Speaking of which:
A list of charities you've probably heard about already, with links and some contact information:
Also a list of posts in this, and two other blogs, about Haiti.
Related post:

1 comment:

Brigid said...

"But wealth isn't a bad thing. Take Saint Louis the Confessor, King of France, was a hypocrite."

I think I know what you meant, but it isn't quite what you said.

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.