In my hometown some 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 Walmart (Dunnes Stores equivalent in the US), steal Walmart!’
We are used to hearing many stories of this kind of corruption and it is always so frustrating because there is usually little or nothing we can do about it. The last world economic crash came about because of greed and dishonesty. In the first reading, which was written about 800 years before Christ, the prophet Amos refers to the same problem: greed and corruption in order to gain money. They had the same problems back then. We are convinced that money will be the answer to our problems and yet the Lord tells us to be very careful with it, because it can easily lead us away from what is important.
Everyone will be held accountable for their actions when they come before God and that is good news, because it means that even if people get away with corruption now, they will not get away with it when they come before God. If we are making any effort to live by the ways of God, then we have nothing to be afraid of. Jesus constantly assures us of God’s mercy, but those who deliberately use and abuse others, to gain wealth, will have to atone for it.
Recently I was watching a series on TV called Narcos, about the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar and El Chapo, two of the most notorious drug Lords in Columbia and Mexico. I stopped watching it after a while, because I found myself getting so angry at the brutality of these people and what they got away with, in order to gain money. Most of them just murdered their way to the top. When El Chapo was eventually caught—he is currently in prison in Colorado—he confessed to having been responsible for the deaths of between 2000 and 3000 people. I couldn’t help wondering what it will be like for these people when they come before God.
|El Chapo's arrest|
There is nothing wrong with having wealth—in case you think this is meant to make you feel guilty!—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. Many of them are trapped in the poverty cycle. They couldn’t afford education, so they can only get unskilled work, which means that they can’t afford to give their children a good education. They are trapped.
If you have done well, thank God for it, but remember, who gives 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, we should be grateful, but 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 and that is where we must be careful to do exactly that. Money is a very useful tool, but it is only a tool, which we can use for good or evil. As people who try and follow 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 with me as a priest and I have to be careful that I don’t just line my pockets instead of making good use of it.
Wealth (if we have wealth) and talents have been entrusted to us for a reason. If we stay focused on the Lord, we will know how to use it wisely.
‘You cannot serve both God and money.’