1. Sacred Scripture has some very severe and terrible things to say to the rich. “Woe to you rich! for you are now having your comfort.” (Luke 6:24) “Amen I say to you, with difficulty will a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven. And further 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 the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 19:23-24; Cf. Mark 10:24-25, Luke 18:24-25) St. James adds: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl over your miseries which will come upon you. Your riches have rotted, and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are rusted, and their rust will be a witness against you, and will devour your flesh as fire does. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the labourers who reaped your fields, which have been kept back by you unjustly, cry out, and their cry has entered into the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have feasted upon earth, and you have nourished your hearts on dissipation in the days of slaughter.” (James 5:1-5)
These passages are not concerned with the rich as such, for men like Abraham, Job, and St. Louis, the King of France, were very wealthy. They are directed against those who have become absorbed in their wealth (Mark 10:24) and have grown deaf to the rightful promptings of justice and of charity.
Nevertheless, it is not only the wealthy and unjust who should reflect seriously on these stern words, but also those who have more than they need in life and are never moved by compassion for their less fortunate fellowmen. Can we be counted amongst these?
2. Wealth is a gift from God. Therefore it is good, like everything else which comes from God. Worldly wealth, as St. Thomas says, can be an instrument of virtue. But it is good only in so far as it leads to holiness. If it interferes with the practice of virtue, it is evil. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. III, 134)
God created the wealth of the earth, not for a few, but for all mankind. All men have the right, therefore, to draw their means of subsistence from the earth. If any individual with large private possessions, however lawfully acquired, battles against this right to live, he commits a grave sin. This could happen either because a man is lacking in justice or in charity. Both justice and charity are commanded by God, however, and it matters very little whether a man goes to hell because he has offended against justice or because he has offended against charity. Hell is Hell in either case.
Let us examine ourselves and see if we are lacking in either of the virtues. It is certain that there would not be so much misery and want in the world if the Gospel teaching on the virtues of justice and charity had ever really triumphed.
3. A very rich man who was convinced that he was a good Christian went to confession one day. He discussed his doubts and worries about the passages in Sacred Scripture which have just been quoted. The penance which he received from the confessor was that he should go and read and meditate in a certain city suburb. This area was full of cabins and caves where large numbers of poor, abandoned people were seeking out an existence. He drove there in his large streamlined car. He stopped and began reading slowly. After a while he became greatly affected and wept... He left his car and, as if driven by some irresistible force, began to distribute all the money which he had with him to those poor people. At last he understood fully, and without the need of any glossary, the command of Our Lord: “Give that which remains as alms; and behold, all things are clean to you.” (Luke 11:41) From that day he was no longer a self-complacent Christian, but a just and charitable rich man.
We can all learn a lot from this story. Even if we are not rich, we certainly have a little more than we need. Let us give it to the poor. They are suffering members of the Mystical Body of Christ. We shall never be worthy members of this Mystical Body if we do not see the image of Jesus Christ in His poor.