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Why Do We Own What We Own?

September 10, 2017

This weekend we celebrate Stewardship Sunday in the parish. This gives us a chance to reflect on how we use and spend what God has given to us. It’s an important question, because it is something that Our Lord speaks about often in the Gospels. It is something that has brought conflict, revolution and even violence to nations. We can see that especially every time a political election rolls around, when politicians endlessly try to pit “the rich” (whatever that means) against “the middle class” (whatever that means). Some of the most intense clashes in our public life occur over how we steward our finances and resources.

When it comes to economics, sometimes we are tempted to have more of an “American” world view on this than a Christian one. What do I mean by that? We have absorbed the values that our primary goal in life is to acquire more material possessions (for ourselves or at best our families). We equate “the good life” with a materially comfortable life. We tend to look down on anyone who is not economically wealthy as not having worked hard enough to get where we are (even though that is often not the case).

Many Catholics have never given much thought to what Jesus teaches about how we should use our resources, through the teaching authority of His Church. So let’s look at a few of those teachings. While the Church affirms the right for people to own private property, to uphold their freedom and dignity and provide for basic needs, we should always look at our ownership of goods and resources as a means to build up the whole human family. Here’s how the Catechism puts it:

In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself." The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family. [#2404]

"In its various forms - material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death - human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least of his brethren. Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere.” [2448]

So the point is that Our Lord asks us always to strike a balance between providing the basic needs for ourselves and our families but also always to be looking for ways to share our resources with those in need. Instead of not looking down upon those in need, we should prefer to help them rather than to continue to accumulate goods for ourselves. It is through these works of charity that we can be the “hands and feet” of Christ, partnering with Jesus Himself to help overcome the destructive effects of sin in the world. For many years, our parish Peace & Justice Commission has been particularly helpful in engaging the parish to do exactly that.

In addition to helping the poor, we have a serious obligation to help support the works of the Church, the priesthood and the sacraments – because the greatest work that we do on earth is to worship the Lord at Holy Mass and help people encounter Jesus personally in baptism, confession, matrimony and anointing of the sick. The Church teaches that supporting the Church according to our means is not a “nice extra” but an “indispensable minimum. That is, it is one of the basic requirements of being a disciple of Christ and practicing Catholic. (See ## 2041, 2043 )

I have read reports by those who study such things that in the last 50 years, the average Catholic has gone from contributing 2% of his income down to 1% of his income. This is one of the reasons so many parishes (including ours) are struggling to make it financially and to keep tuition affordable. In addition to generosity in giving, a great way to give to the Church is by remembering to contribute to the parish in

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