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Don’t Hate the Rich

Is open conflict between the classes what Our Lord had in mind when he laid out the difficult path to heaven for the wealthy?

As Catholics, we are rightly reminded that in the Church’s social teaching, there is a preferential option for the poor. This idea reflects the canon law obligation for us, in the first place, to do all we can within our means to assist the poor and most vulnerable (Can. 222 §2). One of the most important ways to answer this obligation, in addition to material assistance, is to pray regularly for the poor.

Recent data show that the economic gap between the rich and the poor in our society has widened over the past few decades, and that expansion has sparked conflict. Added to this longer-term trend, the recent COVID pandemic only exacerbated the divide as those with plenty were able to keep their jobs and work from an extra room converted into a home office, for example, while many with hourly jobs found themselves with no job at all when their employers shut down, often permanently.

In the Gospels, Our Lord speaks often of the dignity of the poor and our responsibility for their care. He goes even farther when, in several well known instances, he speaks pointedly to the rich and unflinchingly lays out the difficult path to heaven ahead of them.

But is open conflict between the classes—the “haves” and the “have-nots”—what Our Lord had in mind? On the spiritual level, one thing that unites us all is our need for prayers. Who among us can say we are completely, or even mostly, self-sufficient? On the contrary, Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

With that in mind, consider the following questions:

How often, if ever, do we pray for the rich, for those who experience material plenty? And if we are affluent ourselves, do we pray for God’s assistance as fervently and as often as we should?

Hold on a second, we might retort. If indeed we should pray for the rich, does that mean we should ask God to provide the wealthy with greater abundance? Prosperity gospel preachers like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Joyce Meyer might say sure, but no, that’s not at all what we are talking about.

From the beginning, spiritual warfare has been a central reality of Christian life—perhaps today more than ever—regardless of whether we recognize it and how much wealth we have. Given the general human tendency toward sin, all of us will be tempted by any number of vices. But if we do not have wealth, we may also be tempted to envy or jealousy, not only resenting the rich, but even wishing misfortune on them. Envy is a cardinal sin, so this is clearly not what God desires from us.

On the other hand, the wealthy among us might be tempted by different sins, like pride, vanity, and outright disregard for our fellow man. But consider how the rich succumbing to these temptations might have an outsized effect on society. Got an extra million dollars in your pocket? Well, Satan says, “Forget the poor. Buy a new yacht!” Own a prime piece of real estate? The Deceiver cajoles, “You don’t really want to donate that. Maximize your profit. And buy an even bigger yacht!”

These may seem like solutions looking for real problems, but there are significant implications of the wealthy losing such spiritual battles, above and beyond the ultimate destination of their souls. What could that million dollars, donated, have meant to a struggling pro-life ministry? Or that piece of land for a church bursting at the seams, needing both a new building and a place to put it?

Certainly, let us first pray for the poor, whose needs may well involve life or death and include such tragic hardships as homelessness, hunger, and untreated illness. But thereafter, let us also pray for the wealthy, that they might be strong against the temptation to selfishness and so use their largesse for the furtherance of the kingdom of God and the benefit of their fellow man.

Such a use of wealth in the context of the Church has brought great spiritual fruit over the centuries, as we can see in the smattering of canonized kings and queens—the heroic St. Louis IX of France among them—and some of the world’s great cathedrals and basilicas built primarily because of the generosity of the “haves.” And that’s not to mention how the wealth and influence of certain of Jesus’ followers enabled them to play pivotal roles in salvation history. For example, Joseph of Arimathea, whose feast day the Church celebrated just recently, had the means to buy a tomb for Our Lord and the cachet to petition Pontius Pilate for the delivery of Jesus’ body. It is quite possible that right stewardship of significant wealth, the owner of which is seeking to use it according to the will of God, could have an even greater impact in the modern world than it ever had before.

Finally, for those of us who have few (if any) material needs, it is a given that we must pray for the poor first. But afterward, let us pray for ourselves, just as fervently as we might have done before we had wealth. Any Christian, frankly, who feels he does not need God’s help—even if it comes from a well-intentioned but mistaken desire for the Lord to “spend his time with those who need it more”—is putting his eternal destination at risk. God’s grace is available and necessary for all, though it can take different forms depending on our state in life. Pray for spiritual poverty at a level of fervor that matches our material wealth. Pray for the wisdom and courage that will allow us to use a significant portion of our resources for the benefit of our neighbor. Pray for humility, a virtue of which most of us could use more.

And let us pray for one another, in charity, regardless of our means or lack thereof. May we remain steadfast against the sin of envy on the one hand and the sin of selfishness on the other. The Lord desires that all men spend eternity with him in heaven. And we can not only strive for that ultimate goal ourselves, but also help each other get there.

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