Poverty and Riches

Contrary to the opinion of some, Christianity β€” at least in its Catholic form β€” regards neither poverty nor riches as a sign of God’s favour or disfavour. Why, then, is the ‘prosperity gospel’ proving so attractive? Yesterday, not for the first time, our email prayerline contained many requests for financial blessings. Some mentioned distressing situations: nowhere to live, not enough to eat, inadequate or non-existent healthcare, the inability to pay college fees, and so on. Others clearly regarded prayer as a means of obtaining everything the petitioner thought would make him/her happy: a big house, fast car, trophy girl/boyfriend, and so on. We may smile over these, agreeing sagely that money can’t buy happiness, but the fact remains that many people still think of wealth as directly related to God’s blessing and, more troubling still, a blessing that is in some way deserved. By contrast, those who lack anything are under God’s curse, and that is equally deserved. How did such a skewed view of things ever arise?

I wonder whether it is a reaction to centuries of various forms of Christian quietism. Upholding the status quo, not challenging the establishment, accepting that

The rich man in his castle,
the poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

is a self-evident truth (whereas it is nothing of the sort) may have played their part. On the whole, Catholicism has tended to exalt the value of being poor over the value of being rich, recognizing that material plenty can clutter our spiritual vision; but no one can argue that the Church has ever herself felt the need to be poor as an institution.

Lent is a good time to think through our attitudes to poverty and riches, especially as almsgiving is an essential feature of our Lenten discipline. Mercy and compassion aren’t the first qualities that spring to mind when we think of riches, but for Christians they ought to be. That is what we are asked to demonstrate with particular generosity throughout these days of Lent. Our almsgiving shouldn’t be token giving; it should be from the heart, and as much as we can give, whether we’re talking money or some other form of giving, e.g. time. But there is still the underlying attitude to consider. Do we give from a position of superiority, or do we share from the same level? In short, are we believers in the ‘prosperity gospel’ without realising it, or are we ready to accept that we are all equally God’s children and as such bound to one another? The answers may prove uncomfortable, but Lent is a time for being made uncomfortable.


7 thoughts on “Poverty and Riches”

  1. I tend towards thanksgiving for those blessings that God has bestowed upon me, and having lived in real hardship and poverty as a child, I also know that ‘there but for the grace of God – Go I’ when I look at how poverty is affecting so many lives, not just here in the UK, but wider still.

    I don’t accept that poverty is part of the human condition, nor that it will always be with us – which seems to be the mantra of certain political parties at the moment. While I celebrate the government’s commitment to maintain foreign aid for the good that it can inherently bring to those in need, particularly in the third world, I despair at our maintaining WMD in the form of Trident which will cost Β£100 Billion to replace, when that could be used to alleviate poverty in both the UK and abroad.

    Somehow the spirit of charity has been squeezed out of people’s hearts, although a specific event will lead to an outpouring of giving, it needs to be sustained in the longer, regular term for such charities as CAFOD and Christian Aid and Tearfund who desperately need support and are doing such valuable work with diminishing resources world wide.

  2. Like many, I too used to think of prayer as a means to an end, a way of asking for things in my life that I needed, or thought that I needed. Not all prayers were for material gain or good fortune, many prayers were for healing, and some were to ask for life while a loved one struggled through what was to be their last hours.

    In recent years my thoughts towards prayer have changed. I now see prayer for what it is, a time to be closer to God, rather than prayer being a request vehicle. When I look back over my life I find that my prayers have been answered, just not in the manner that I had originally petitioned. I’ve come to realise that God knows best, and that having trust in God is the foundation of prayer. If we go through the motions of prayer, without making a true connection with God, although not necessarily wasting our time, we lack the true essence of prayer and a meaningful relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    Lent is a powerful period, a time to reevaluate who we really are, and to deepen our relationship with God.

    However despondent and hard done by that I may feel about myself, there are always others far less fortunate than me, and giving something of oneself to others especially during Lent is a powerful prayer indeed.

  3. I like the comment above- God knows Best. My prayers too have altered over the years, because I was only praying for what I thought was best for me. They were self centred prayers. Prayer should also be a way of giving to others – A form of alms giving.
    Proverbs 30 v 7-8 has helped my understanding in this area a great deal.
    ( Please excuse the dashes πŸ™‚ )

  4. We have been having this conversation about the “prosperity gospel” and the focus on prayer for selfish reasons. In the U.S., the mega church phenomenon has blown up larger than ever. In the past, televangelists held the sway but more recently it seems that brick and mortar institutions are focused only on the idea that if God loves us He allows us to do what ever we want and shows this love through prosperity.

    This idea seems to me VERY counter the message of Jesus who focused on dying to the self and giving to others.

  5. I was saddened to read elsewhere a comment to the effect that money worries etc can so drain one’s energy that one hasn’t the time to give to others, let alone the material resources with which to do so. I think that is addressed by the Parable of the Sower: the cares of this life can choke the growth of the seed of God’s word in us as surely as riches or anything else. Cassian makes the point that we are none of us so poor that we cannot give to others in some way. I certainly hope the hours I devote to prayer are a form of giving to others!

    • The story of Moses battling Amalek comes to mind, as when Moses held his staff aloft the opposition failed to advance, but when he lowered it in fatigue the enemy gained on them, so Moses’ arms were propped up and the battle won. Religious everywhere, praying the Divine Office through the night as we laypeople sleep, praying throughout the day when we are occupied with family and work pray for all when we can’t or don’t pray for ourselves, advancing the Kingdom. We’re certainly grateful for those hours of prayer Religious offer for all.

  6. In our Diocese we are urged to give generously, out of love for God and our fellow man, in one homily “Give until it hurts, and if it doesn’t hurt you haven’t given enough.” We give through “time, talent, and treasure”, those who are short on money can still give through time in prayer, supporting all and praying for people who have no one to pray for them, as well as for the dead, those with other gifts may donate their services in various functions in the Diocese. As to treasure, we’re encouraged to examine our budgets and come up with an honest, responsible, planned donation schedule.

    On the other hand, a good friend of ours who belongs to a different Christian denomination fully believes in tithing, based on the Book of Malachai, believes one tenth is the biblical minimum, and believes God wants her family to have all their heart’s desires, material and otherwise, and this tithe will assure them of His end of the bargain. As her pastor preaches, if she and her husband don’t do so they may expect God’s wrath to descend upon them. We’ve heard these types of sermons when we’ve inadvertently tuned in to American megachurch services on the TV.

    Two very different views on giving, naturally, as Catholics, we hold to the first, giving and serving as we can. What we have comes from God, to be shared as best we can, and when we return to Him we won’t be bringing our material treasures along as luggage.

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