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Putting religion on money

June 16, 2016

WE have to learn how to blend these two elements. We cannot be simplistic and put them always in conflict. Yes, there are dangers to avoid. But we have to distinguish the good from the evil involved in the use of money. Otherwise, we might throw the baby out with the bath water.

It’s true that the Gospel warns us to serve only one master. We cannot serve both God and Mammon, the false idol of material wealth that exercises bad influence on us. (cfr. Mt 6,24)

But this indication is not an outright condemnation of money. We always need money, since we are not angels. We are simply asked to avoid the extreme of considering money as our God, and the other extreme of regarding money as intrinsically evil. We have to be careful with money because, as St. Paul warned, ‘love for money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim 6,10)

Christ himself had to use some money. When asked if he also had to pay taxes, he told Peter, after alluding that strictly speaking he should be exempted from it, to go to the shore to get money from a fish to pay the taxes. (cfr. Mt 17,27)

Money has to be used with a growing sensibility to its moral dimensions. It has to fit our true human dignity. It has to be related to our conscience, and ultimately to religion. It has to serve both God and man. It can be a wonderful tool for our material and spiritual growth.

In other words, money should not just be used following exclusively practical and economic criteria. We also have to consider higher, spiritual values, since we are not purely economic creatures, but are persons and children of God.

There’s no doubt that money contributes to human progress. Imagine a world without money! We’d hardly advance from the Stone Age. And with population growing and the economy stagnant, there’s nothing much to expect other than chaos.

From my Economics 101 class, I learned that money has to circulate as fast as possible to generate economic activity, and thus affect more people and hopefully produce more satisfaction.

But obviously this is not only a matter of speed. There has to be proper direction, since as St. Augustine once said, no matter how fast one runs, if he is off-track, he will never reach the finish line.

We need to find the proper blend. It’s a continuing task requiring us to pray, study, observe, consult, and decide. It’s not easy, and never a perfect activity. We often can’t see the forest for its trees. It thrives more on trial and error. And so we have to be flexible also.

I remember that before I got ordained – this was in Rome – I was asked to buy a new pair of shoes. So I went around to look for the one I liked. When I finally found the pair, I asked the saleslady if those shoes would last long.

She stared at me, as if I was a Martian. Then she asked me, “But why would you like the shoes to last long?”

That question stunned me. I’ve always been taught to buy things that can last even as long as a lifetime. But that remark led me to thinking more deeply. Of course, if everyone would buy shoes only once in a rare while, how would the shoe industry fare?

I concluded that the lady had a very valid point. But I had to study things more comprehensively. I had to integrate it with the requirements of temperance and Christian poverty.

When I was in high school, I hardly bought anything. I always thought I had everything that I needed, since I was told not to create needs. I got this trait from my parents who were very Spartan.

My younger sister, however, would remind me it was time to change my wardrobe, or would introduce me to products like skin lotions and colognes, and the new styles around.

I was afraid I would fall into consumerism and materialism which I thought would elude my sister’s understanding. But since I did not see these anomalies in her, I followed part of her suggestions. I concluded I exaggerated my fears.

Now I realize she was helping the economy, aside from making me look kind of good. She had more common sense, was more down-to-earth, while I tended to be cocooned with my books.

With all the recently discovered ugly schemes and scams in our complicated economic environment today, there’s a crying need to hone this skill of properly blending money and religion.

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