Are Catholicism and wealth incompatible?

Hi,
This is something I’ve wrestled with for a very long time. I know this is a long question but due to the degree this question has haunted me I ask you read it.

I’m an 18 year old young man who was fortunate enough to be born into a house where I didn’t have to worry where my next meal would come from, had a pool in the backyard and had loving parents. For this I’m eternally grateful.

I have battled severe scrupulosity since I’ve been about 13 years old. It’s been very difficult but I feel I’ve grown closer to God through this struggling.

At times through my ardent desire to keep the commandments the verse that stares me in the face is Matthew chapter 19 with the rich young man. Here was a man who desperately wanted to save his soul, a man who went as far as one can go before going all the way, if you will. In many ways I sympathize with this man. It must be difficult to sell everything one owns at the drop of a hat, not having any time to prepare for the emotional firestorm that is immediately disowning everything you’ve known- not just the possessions, but the assumedly loving family he had as well. Of course, such an offer is difficult, but when the King of kings extends it, one has truly no choice but to say yes in the face of such Love. I’d like to think if Christ asked this of me I would muster up the courage to say yes and leave all behind. This is a fortitude I pray for frequently.

The harsh language Christ uses here leads me to ask- should anyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ sell all and give to the poor? I of course know the caveat Christ throws in (“with God all things are possible”) but it makes me feel guilty to know a possession of mine is simply food left unshared with a population of starving children. It’s a guilt that never truly goes away.

I, since I was a kid, was never much of a materialist. I (not to sound like this rich young man, listing off what he has done, I only do this for context) from a very young age was conscious of the poor around me and was not always seeking “more” and “better”. Ever since truly venturing to understand this verse, the context of men like Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Simon the Leper and Zacchaeus who remained wealthy to an extent and were disciples, and books such as Radical by David Platt and other books that border between theology and guilt tripping (though its true that the truth often hurts), I have tried to change my life. I have tried to really cut back my own style of living, though I’m far from perfect. I still eat out, enjoy playing sports with my friends and working on household projects.

All of this said, must I sell everything? Is the fact that I’m asking this question an indication that I must? I have sold myself on the fact that it’s logical to want to ensure you know the total and complete Truth before doing something as emotionally wrenching and morally significant as disowning all you’ve ever known. But I don’t know whether this is blind justification or a legitimate concern.

The early church fathers wrote passionately against the wrong disposition toward luxury. There are video series on YouTube telling the audience how ridiculous the notion of “rich” and “Christian” being compatible really is, in almost a mocking tone of verses they feel are taken out of context to justify owning possessions (I refuse to comment on the fact these individuals own webcams).

To me, if there is any ambiguity in Christ’s “camel through the eye of a needle” and “with God all things are possible”, or the debate over whether after his four fold restitution Zacchaeus had anything at all, it is cleared up by Matthew who says that Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, and was himself a disciple. Why would Matthew say such a thing if it were impossible for those with wealth to be followers? But then, though the common trope of “dispositional problems” of the rich young man come to mind, why is this tone not present in Christ’s discussion with a man who I have a deep-set feeling was a scrupulous young man?

Maybe I’m the rich young man. That’s a question that lays severe guilt in my heart. I truly feel I’ve undergone a conversion in the way I view stewardship, my possessions, and how the preferential option truly should be for the poor. However, I still enjoy playing sports with my friends, drive a 2010 model car, and love buying wood and hardware for building projects. I feel my heart is with God. Do my possessions say otherwise?

Matthew 27:57
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.

If you recall, he approach Pilot to obtain the body of Jesus for proper burial.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_of_Arimathea
Take a look at this link.

I interpret that Joseph of Arimathea did not sell everything and give his wealth away. But he used his wealth and more importantly, devoted his life to the Faith and helping others. IMO, it is how we live our lives by loving one another and acting in the service of others that is far more important than selling everything and giving it away just for the sake of doing so.

Jesus specifically tells us: “And again I say to you: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 19:24
Mark 10:25
It doesn’t seem like it would be too easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle?

Define rich.

There need to be Christians in every economic/social class so that they can evangelize the people in that class, their peers. If you’re upper middle class you can mingle with others who are upper middle class and expose them to Christ.

Further, we can quote scripture back and forth, of course.
*But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day (Deuteronomy 8:18).

Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD that delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever (Psalm 112:1-3).*

I know plenty of righteous, and devout Catholics that the Lord has blessed with success and wealth. They use these blessing for the good of others. Putting this topic in the proper perspective is essential to understanding God’s blessing of wealth, rather than just labeling someone “rich”.

Rich means having wealth. The cutoff will vary from country to country and from one time period to another, but in the USA a household with an annual income of more than $200,000 is considered to be a rich household.
investmentnews.com/article/20120827/FREE/120829941/what-salary-makes-you-rich-americans-set-a-low-bar

It also probably depends on where in the country you live, as well.

I’m not rich. I drive a 2014 car, however, I need a very reliable car to get me back and forth to work and school. Having a warranty is great, I had to use it this past week for my A/C. No air conditioning in the South should be a sin.
I want to go far in my career, not to make loads of money (student loans will eat that up) but because I feel that doing this job will help others and it is a field that I am totally interested in which helps with ADHD because if I don’t have an interest, you can kiss my focus goodbye.
If something were to happen, say the government says to denounce my faith or get out. I’ll be giving up my possessions and leaving. I won’t let anything, including money, get in the way of my faith. That’s what I get out of it.

I once spoke to a Priest who had an interesting interpretation of this part of scripture.

Jerusalem had many narrow streets and passages. One of the most infamous ones was called the Eye of the Needle. Pack animals such as camels that were loaded with goods had to be guided with great care through this passage, otherwise they would become stuck. But it could be done with effort.

The Priest said this was likely what Jesus was referring to as opposed to the literal meaning we normally assume.

With this interpretation, wouldn’t all people be like the camel, not just the rich? Don’t we all; rich, poor, etc. need to guide our lives with great care?

This explanation is not considered to have any historical evidence to support it.

It also doesn’t make much sense with regard to the next couple of verses:

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Note that Jesus said it is impossible…not merely hard but something that could be done with effort. If it was referring to some gate or passage, that is hard to pass through but possible, the disciples would not have been “greatly astonished”.

As for what this passage implies for the rest of us, we must be careful not to project beyond the story too much, because this was an encourter between one particular rich man and Jesus. There is nothing in the story to lead us to infer that Jesus expects that of us all. In fact, Jesus only asked the man to give his possessions away and follow him after his original answer was considered lacking by the rich man. It is the original answer that is relevant to all of us - “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments”.

Some people are called to give away everything. The rich young man was, and many religious have done so and continue to do so today. but for most of us, we are not specifically called to do so, but instead are called to use our wealth (spiritual and material) for the betterment of others.

Here are a couple of sections of the Catechism that discuss wealth, and how we are to use it and think of it:

vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a0.htm

vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c2a3.htm

This, as other posters have noted, does not have any historical basis in Christ’s day. The Eye of the Needle Gate was not around until centuries later. The “with God all things are possible” a few verses after seems to be the caveat used most often.

Originally Posted by Convert1 View Post
Define rich.

To be fair, while of course some have more than others, I find this question a unique one to all Americans. We all are, or at least the overwhelming majority of us, among the top 1-2% in the world if we own a computer and have a post-secondary education. We, legalistically, could say that many things we own are superfluities that could be sold and given to the poor who have no food and drink contaminated water. I don’t espouse a legalistic view, as truly I posted this question seeking a Catholic answer, but I think that line of thinking or option for the poor is one that every Catholic should have present in their minds when managing money.
Ultimately for me, Matthew calling J of A a disciple confirms the modern interpretation of Matthew 19, where an absolute surrender to God in all arenas of life, including money, which He can use in any way He sees fit.

I agree. How much money one has is such an insignificant factor in determining their true “wealth”. I have little money, but I feel very rich in God’s love and his abundant support he provides in times of trouble. I do not condemn others with money or those that are rich; that is not my place to judge their choices. Also, our church has grown tremendously by the generosity of those much richer monetarily than I. Our giving of ourselves, (which I have noticed doesn’t limit itself to just those with bank accounts) is the crux of living our lives in the way Christ intended. Rich or poor.

I’ve always pondered that.

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