In my hometown a few years ago a man took his own life as sadly often happens. He was a great family man, involved in his local parish, well known and respected and he had also become very wealthy. Everyone was shocked. After his death it was discovered that he had got much of his wealth through fraud and it was about to come to light. It seems he couldn’t face it and he took his own life. A terrible tragedy that no one would want to happen.
One of my sisters in-law, Claire, used to work as a stenographer (one of the people in court who records every word spoken in each case). She witnessed many court cases and I remember her saying that many of the cases of fraud and corruption, especially on a large scale, become so complicated that no one can follow them and they eventually get rejected. It seems that the bigger the crime the more likely you are to get away with it. One of the judges said to her one time, ‘If you want to get away with a crime, don’t steal something from Dunnes Stores (Walmart equivalent in the US), steal Dunnes Stores itself!’
We are used to hearing many stories of corruption and it is always so frustrating because there is usually little or nothing we can do about it. The world economic crash came about because of greed and dishonesty. The prophet Amos refers to the same problem in the first reading, which was written about 800 years before Christ. Humanity doesn’t change. However, the good thing is that everyone will be held accountable when they come before God and why I say that is good news is that even if people get away with corruption now, they will not get away with it when they come before God. We will all be held accountable for our actions.
There is nothing wrong with having wealth, so long as we realize that we have a responsibility to use it properly. I have often heard it said from people who have done very well, ‘I worked hard for my money!’ No doubt they did, but the poor work hard too, but their circumstances are different from the beginning and they are often trapped at the bottom. If we have done well, thank God for it, but remember who gave us the opportunities, the health, the education, the ability, the intelligence? Everything is a gift from God. If God has blessed us in this way it means that we also have a responsibility to use it well. Perhaps the Lord gave you money specifically to help people in various situations, but that is where we must be careful to do just that. Money is a very useful thing, but it is only a tool which we can use for good or evil. As Christians who try and follow the way of the Lord we must be especially careful that we do not become slaves to money, or see money as an end in itself. It is a tool and we must use it wisely and this applies to me as a priest as much as everyone else. People are very generous to us priests and I have to be careful that I don’t just line my pockets instead of making good use of it. I too will be accountable before God.
If we are living in great luxury it probably means that others are doing without. Usually when couples have families they are more pressed for cash as they try and provide for their children. But then later on when children have grown up, you may find you have you have more surplus and that is when we must remember to try and provide for the next generation and those around us, as others did for us.
Wealth (if we have wealth) and talents have been entrusted to us for a reason, it is up to us to use it well.
‘You cannot serve both God and money.’