To begin, we have to understand these next few things before anything else will make sense.
First, human life on this earth is a test, given to each and everyone of us by God, to see if we are worthy of heaven.
This material universe is a testing ground.
It is not a play-ground.
The second thing we need to remember is that each person consists of two parts; a visible part (the body) and an invisible part (the soul). The body and soul are each made by its Creator to be together. The body needs the soul in order to work and the soul needs the body in order to interact with the material stuff. But the body acts to the soul like an insulator by making the soul less sensitive to the presence of God and the things of Heaven. Consequently…
Due to the fallen nature of man (due to the sin of Adam and Eve) the body wants to be master over the soul (by seeking comfort, pleasure and ease) while the soul (in order to prove its worthiness for heaven) must subdue the body’s natural inclinations and master it (by willfully denying the body all that the material aspect of the person desires).
Our soul must control the body through mortifications: eating less than the body’s natural cravings, remaining chaste (appropriate to the person’s ‘station in life’), seeking humility and exercising other virtues to a high degree.
The author of “Why Catholicism Matters,” Dr. William Donohue (Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights) spoke about the dangers of affluence as regards to a Catholic’s ability to pass their earthly test1:
… when Catholics came over to this country we weren’t treated fairly in the nineteenth century right up to the first days of the twentieth century, discrimination against Catholics, and it showed up in immigration laws and it showed up in the work-place and it showed up in the schools. It (discrimination against Catholics) was rampant in this country.
But, we’ve made a lot of progress and that’s good.
And more and more Catholics have gone from the lower class to the working class to the middle class, upper-middle class… But,
We’ve gotten comfortable.
You know, that’s one of the downsides of affluence: when middle class people become lazy in their spirituality, because they’ve become comfortable, they are more concerned about their 401K, which you should be concerned about it, but they’ve lost that kind of ‘fire in the belly’ (they’ve become lukewarm in their faith) and their attitude is:
‘Aah, Father Mitch can take care of that!’
Well, it’s too late in the day.
Father Mitch needs our help.
We have to think the way the NATO Treaty does in Article V: ‘an attack on one is an attack on all.’
We’ve got to get it through the heads of a lot of Catholics.
But, I’ve met too many Catholics, and they tend to be particularly white and affluent…
These people are the ones who are the proponents of gay marriage, they’ve sold out, they’ve gotten comfortable.
I can identify with the working class, certainly I can than with white professionals anymore.
So, is there no hope for the affluent Catholic?
Consider what Saint Ambrose, a Church Father and the confessor to Saint Augustine says2:
…’Just as riches are an impediment to virtue in the wicked man, so in the good man are they (riches) an aide of virtue.’
Because it gives the opportunity for the virtuous wealthy person to be generous to the service of God and to the service of his fellow man…
So, riches can, in an of themselves, be an aide of virtue in the good/virtuous person, and lead then to further virtue.
Saint John Baptist de LaSalle says: ‘It is not a sin to have riches, but it is a sin to fix our hearts upon them.’
And Matthew 6:24 ‘No one can serve two masters he will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You can not serve both God and mammon.’
Again, words of Our Lord Himself.
The word ‘mammon’ refers to material wealth and prosperity.
In scripture, the word is used to personify wealth as a ‘master’ of an individual that is in enmity with God; in competition with God…
‘Because you are haughty of heart, the prophet Ezekiel says, ‘and because you say: a god am I, you have heaped up your riches, your heart has grown haughty from your riches.’
In other words, they let their riches stand before their relationship with God.
Putting all of their happiness in their riches…
So again, riches, wealth, luxury are not evil in and of themselves and indeed, Christianity has never, ever taught that.
But, when they are not accompanied by a good and virtuous life, to the service of both God and one’s fellow human person then they can become an obstacle.
And, Saint Paul in 2nd Corinthians Chapter 8 gives wonderful guidance with respect to sharing one’s wealth in the service of God and fellow man when he exhorted the Corinthians how to go about contributing bountifully for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem:
The willingness to give should accord with one’s means and not go beyond them.
The relief of others ought not to impoverish you.
There should be a certain equality.
Your plenty at the present time should supply their need so that their surplus may one day supply your need,with equality as a result.
As it is written: ‘He who gathered much had no excess and he who gathered little had no lack.’
1. From an EWTN interview with Father Mitch Pacwa S.J. aired on 15 August 2012
2. Excerpted from a Homily by Father Wade Menezes C.P.M. delivered on 21 August 2012