Archives: Ten Positive Principles of Personal Wealth

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September 13, 2017


By Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Patheos, Nov. 28, 2015

I was going to write a blog post criticizing what I call “faux Franciscanism”–that is the problem in the church in which poverty is praised for its own sake.

We should be clear. Poverty is not a virtue on its own. The  poor are not blessed because they are poor.

We should remember that poor people can also be greedy, selfish, violent and bitter in their poverty.

“Faux Franciscanism” nurtures the mistaken idea that being poor is virtuous for its own sake. It’s not. The vow of poverty is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, and the that end is to provide a prophetic witness to the world and to nurture true detachment within the heart of the avowed.

One of the negative side effects of “faux Franciscanism” is that church people think everything about the Catholic faith has to be not only poor, but cheap, or poor quality and nasty workmanship. If you’re not careful you end up with cheaply built buildings that are poorly repaired and about to fall down. You end up with dirty, trashy facilities and mistake trash for holy poverty.

“Faux Franciscanism” sometimes also leads to a kind of fake, ostentatious poverty. “Oh! look how poor I am!” says the poor priest. “I live on only ten dollars a day!” While we all know he gets his house, health insurance, pension plan, car, phone and groceries on the parish.

However, far be it from me (the chief hypocrite) for pointing out the hypocrisy of others.

Rather than ranting on about “faux Franciscanism” I thought it would be more positive and cheerful to offer ten principles of a proper attitude to personal wealth.

1. It’s Not Yours – Your money and your personal possessions aren’t yours. They are a gift. Even if you have worked hard and been smart with your money, where did you get the brains, education and world view to work that hard and be that smart? It was given to you. God gave you those gifts. Therefore what you have is a gift. That’s the first principle.

2. Wealth is Good if you Are Good – To hold money and possessions well you have to be a virtuous person. If you are a selfish, greedy person your wealth will be a curse, not a blessing. Pursue virtue so that you might use your wealth properly. For a virtuous person wealth leads to greater virtue. For a bad person wealth destroys them further.

3. You Are A Steward Not an Owner – Remember. They don’t put pockets in shrouds.  You’re going to leave it all behind. All of it. Therefore, decide to recognize what is true–the wealth and possessions you think you own you do not own. You are simply the caretaker. You’re the steward. What matters is not what wealth you have, but what good you do with it.

4. Detachment is the True Virtue of Poverty – Being poor is not a virtue for its own sake, but the reason the gospel and the pope and the saints stress poverty is because poverty can teach us to be detached from material wealth and possessions and focus our attention on higher things. This is called the virtue of detachment. Detachment is not the same thing as poverty. It is a spiritual condition in which “nothing is preferred to the love of Christ.”

5.  Love All Things According to their Worth – Material possessions and wealth can be a blessing and a path to God if we love all things according to their worth. This means we never obtain something because it will help us show off or give us something to brag about. We never obtain something to further our vanity or simply to indulge our physical pleasures. Instead all things are given in order to be valued according to their intrinsic worth. A house, for example, is to lodge a family, welcome guests and offer security, peace and a loving home. It is not a trophy.

6. Seek the beautiful, good and true – Look for that which is beautiful, good and true. Do not obtain things because they are flashy, trashy, fake and fleeting. Buy few things, but let them be good quality and a joy forever.

7. What is good is not expensive and what is expensive is not always good – Be discerning and never be swayed only by price. Just as that which is expensive is rarely good value and often not good, so that which is cheap is not good simply because it is cheap. A good item from a junk shop may be cheap and good. Another item from a luxury store may be expensive crap.

8. Give, Save, Spend – That’s the order to bring financial happiness. Give first and give generously. Save next and save wisely. Spend last and spend little.

9. Money is like Manure – You’ve heard this one before. Keep too much of it stored up in one place and it is useless and stinks. Spread it around and it helps many things grow and bear much fruit. So be generous to good charities and churches, be generous to people with good ideas. Be generous to those who are doing good things and need money to do more good things.

10. Make a wise will – You’re going to leave it all behind. Your last will and testament helps you decide how to best use your wealth after you’ve gone across the river.