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Coats, cold words, and chamberpots

I have always heard ascribed to Peter Maurin the dictum: "The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor." The London Catholic Worker website echoes it: "Houses of hospitality are centers for learning to do the acts of love, so that the poor can receive what is, in justice, theirs, the second coat in our closet, the spare room in our home, a place at our table. Anything beyond what we immediately need belongs to those who go without."

But now I wonder whether Peter Maurin was echoing a paragraph of St. Basil the Great's homily on next Sunday's Gospel (Lk 12: 13-21);

you can find the paragraph in both Greek and English at

Basil represented a common view of the Fathers well summed up by the Venerable Bede: The reason the Lord reproved the man who tore down his barns in order to build bigger ones was not that he cultivated the earth and collected its fruits into his barns, but that he did not divide with the poor what went beyond his needs--in which case he wouldn't need larger barns--but instead built larger barns in which to keep them for himself. Here is Basil's paragraph:

Were you not naked when you came out of the womb? Will you not be naked when you return to the earth? Where did the things you now possess come from? If you say they just appeared spontaneously, then you are an atheist because you do not acknowledge the Creator and show no gratitude towards the one who gave them to you. But if you say they are from God, tell us the reason why you received them. Or is it that God is unjust because he unequally divides among us the things of this life? Why are you rich while that other man is poor? Is it not perhaps so that you might receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship and so that he may be honored with great prizes because of his endurance?

But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose that you do nothing wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a greedy man? Someone who is not content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes what belongs to others. And are you not a greedy man, are you not a cheater, when you take the things you received for the sake of stewardship and make them your own? Anyone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but does someone who fails to clothe the naked when he is able to do so deserve any other appellation? The bread you are holding back belongs to the hungry; the coat you keep in your closet belongs to the naked; the shoes moldering in your closet belong to the shoeless; the silver you hide in a safe place belongs to the needy. Thus, the more there are whom you could help, the more there are whom you are wronging.

Basil recognized the difficulty he had in persuading his congregation: "I make the same impression as I do when I am preaching to libertines against their unchastity." This did not prevent him or others of the great Fathers from frequently preaching against greed. For another sermon of Basil see and for an article with many citations from the Fathers:

No one was more frequent or stronger in his criticisms of the rich than St. John Chrysostom first as Bishop of Antioch and then as Bishop of Constantinople, in both of which cities there were plenty of wealthy Christians. In one of his sermons on the First Epistle to Timothy, he set out his views on the origin of wealth.

"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach." Paul suffered reproach, and youre impatient? Paul had to labor, and you want to live luxuriously? If he had lived luxuriously, he would never have attained such great blessings. For if worldly goods, which are uncertain and perishable, are never gained by men without labor and pains, much less are spiritual. "Well," someone says, "some people inherit them." Yet even when inherited, they are not guarded and preserved without labor, and care, and trouble, no less than those have that first gained them. And I need not say that many who have toiled and endured hardships have been disappointed at the very entrance of the harbor, and an adverse wind has caused the wreck of their hopes, when they were upon the point of possession. But with us there is nothing like this. For it is God who promised, and that "hope maketh not ashamed." (Rm 5,5) You who are conversant with worldly affairs, don't you know how many men, after infinite toils, have not enjoyed the fruit of their labors, either because they were cut off by death, or overtaken by misfortune, or assailed by disease, or ruined by false accusers, or some other cause which, amidst the variety of human casualties has forced them to go with empty hands?

"But dont you see the lucky people," someone says, "who with little labor acquire the good things of life?" What good things? Money, houses, so many acres of land, trains of servants, heaps of gold and silver? Can you call these good things, and not hide your head for shame? One called to the pursuit of heavenly wisdom and yet gaping after worldly things and calling "goods" things of no value! If these things are good, then the possessors of them must be called good. For is not a person good who possesses what is good? But when the possessors of these things are guilty of fraud and rapine, shall we call them good? For if wealth is a good, but is increased by grasping, the more it is increased, the more will its possessor be considered to be good. Is the grasping man then good? But if wealth is good, and increases by grasping, the more a man grasps, the better he must be. Is not this plainly a contradiction?

"But suppose the wealth is not gained wrongfully." And how is that possible? So destructive a passion is avarice that to grow rich without injustice is impossible. This Christ declared, saying, "Make to yourselves friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness." (Lk 16,19) "But what if he succeeded to his father's inheritance?" Then he received what had been gathered by injustice. For his ancestor did not inherit riches from Adam; some one of his many ancestors must probably have unjustly taken and enjoyed the goods of others....Tell me, then, what is the source of your wealth? From whom did you receive it, and from whom the one who transmitted it to you? "From his father and his grandfather." But can you go back through the many generations and show the acquisition just? It cannot be. The root and origin of it must have been injustice. Why? Because God in the beginning did not make one man rich and another poor. Nor did he later show one treasures of gold and deny the other the right of to search for it. He left the earth free to all alike. Why then, if it is common, do you have so many acres of land, while your neighbor has no portion of it?....N

ote how wisely God has arranged things. That He might put mankind to shame, He has made certain things common, as the sun, air, earth, and water, the sky, the sea, the light, the stars; whose benefits are dispensed equally to all as brethren. We are all formed with the same eyes, the same body, the same soul, the same structure in all respects, all things from the earth, all men from one man, and all in the same habitation. But these are not enough to shame us. Other things also He has made common, as baths, cities, market-places, walks. And observe that there is no contention with regard to concerning things that are common, but all is peaceable. But when someone attempts to possess himself of anything, to make it his own, then contention is introduced, as if nature herself were indignant, that when God brings us together in every way, we are eager to divide and separate ourselves by appropriating things and by using those cold words "mine and thine." Then there is contention and uneasiness.....

But as I said, how can he, who is rich, be a good man? When he distributes his riches, he is good, so that he is good when he has ceased to have it, when he gives it to others; but while he keeps it himself, he is not good. How then is that a good which being retained renders men evil, being parted with makes them good? Not therefore to have wealth, but to have it not, makes one appear to be good. Wealth therefore is not a good. (Chrysostom, Homily 12 on 1 Timothy)

Chrysostom's "state of nature," before those cold words were heard, might be contrasted with the one concocted by John Locke or Thomas Hobbes. C.B. McPherson in his great book The Theory of Possessive Individualism showed how the people who inhabited their "state of nature" already were using those cold words "mine and thine," behaving like perfect 17th-century proto-capitalists. Chrysostom's state of nature is probably no less mythical, but at least it has this for itself: it runs counter to contemporary culture.

I do not know whether the socialist William Morris was thinking of Chrysostom's "cold words mine and thine" when he wrote his translation of a medieval Flemish poem and entitled it "Mine and Thine," but there is a website that correlates the ancient sermon and the poem:

Chrysostom received particular criticism from the grandes dames of Constantinople when he became too specific in his criticisms of the extravagances of wealthy women who, not content with silver jars, pitchers, and scent bottles, had taken also to silver chamberpots. Admitting to some embarrassment at taking up the subject, he wondered if it was not the makers of such things that ought to be ashamed. He sputtered to find a proper word for this excess:

When Christ is famishing, do you revel in such luxury, act so foolishly? What punishment shall these people not suffer? And do you ask why there are robbers? why murderers? why such evils? when the devil has thus made you ridiculous. Simply having silver dishes is not in keeping with a soul devoted to wisdom but is altogether a piece of luxury; but making unclean vessels also of silver, is this then luxury? I will not call it luxury, but senselessness; no, its madness, worse than madness....

In truth, to be wealthy does make people senseless and mad. Did their power reached that far, they would have the earth too of gold, and walls of gold, perchaps the sky too and the air of gold. What a madness is this, what an iniquity, what a burning fever! Another, made after the image of God, is perishing of cold; and you're furnishing yourself with such things as these? O the senseless pride! What more would a madman have done? Do you pay such honor to your excrements as to receive them in silver? I know you're shocked at hearing this; but its the women who make such things who ought to be shocked and the husbands that minister to such distempers. For this is wantonness, and savageness, and inhumanity, and brutishness, and lasciviousness. (Homily 7 on Colossians)

The bishop half-apologized in his next sermon:

Forgive me, forgive! I have no wish to violate decency by speaking about such things, but I am compelled to do so. I dont say these things for the sake of the sorrows of the poor but for your salvation, because those who have not fed Christ will perish, will perish! What if you feed some poor man? As long as you live that voluptuously and luxuriously, its all in vain. It is not required that you give much, but that you not give too little, given the property you own, for that's just playing at it. (Homily 8 on Colossians)

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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FR. Komonchak, thanks so much for these sources. These men command attention, not by saying that they do, but by talking about what it means to be a Christian. No doubt they do not offer a full-fledged program of social action. But they do set some markers that those of us who say that we care about the Gospel had better heed.I myself confess that I don't know just what to do. But I long for a conversation that would focus on this deeply Christian concern for the poor.

Thanks for these stark reminders, Father. The good news is that many Americans rank high in their giving. I hope we continue to do so most especially in these more adverse economic times.

Great post Joe. If there is an essence to the message of Jesus this is it. It is not very popular and is the biggest reason Christians in name revert to other issues as they avoid the most essential. Are you basically giving this sermon this coming Sunday? Unfortunately, you may not get many nods.

Thank you Joe! I think I remember your pointing out one day that the gold on the ceiling of St. Peter's was stolen from the Aztecs and Incas. Not that that lets me off the hook. .

William: You said,...the gold on the ceiling of St. Peterswas stolen from the Aztecs and Incas.Would these be the same Aztecs and Incas who practiced human sacrifice, perchance? A little Capacocha goes a long way.

And what are today's silver chamberpots, that we may hope to hear an outcry against them this Sunday? Extravagant jaccuzis, perhaps?

Thank you very much for this, Father K. You are remarkable, though I guess your students have known this for a long time. William Marrin: I believe it is the gold on the ornate ceiling of Santa Maria Maggiore to which you refer. But certainly St. Peter's is ornate enough to have required some of that New World luxe. I keep forgetting the tourist guide ditty to the four basilicas of Rome, only that St. Peter's the biggest, St. Mary Major the richest, San Giovanni in Laterano the ... most important? St. Paul outside the Walls the ... oldest?

Father - your blog here has challenged me - how much I have! - I enjoyed the Peter Maurin quote - brought my Theology class to the the Catholic Worker Farm in Marlboro, NY recently and we had a great conversation and discussion with a man named Tom Cornell and his wife and son who run the farm and provide food for the poor to be fed - again, thanks

Bob Schwartz: "Would these be the same Aztecs and Incas who practiced human sacrifice, perchance?" Aside from the preciousness of that "perchance," what's your point? That doing evil to those who do evil is good? is that an apologia for the genocide of native Americans, or the enslavement of Africans, or the terror-bombing of Germans and Japanese? Great post, Father K.

Folks, please let me try something here. I assure you that I'm not trying to be a smartass!I'm retired, in my mid-seventies and in pretty good health. Married, wife also in pretty good health. By any measure, we're quite well off, clearly better of than at least 75% of Americans. We're well insured. There are two sons with their wives. Also five grandchildren to consider. Both sons are well paid professionals. In short, we have no foreseeable "unfunded or underfunded" liabilities. We're not really rich, but we surely aren't poor. Question: How much of what we have ought we to get rid of, give away?I take it that our situation is by no means unique, so maybe your comments, if you make any, would be relevant to some reasonable slice of us upper middle, especially older, American Catholics.I'm posting this here, really asking for your ideas and comments. This is not spiritual direction, but rather, I hope, a small step toward a broader conversation about what it means to say "Blessed are the poor." Don't worry about hurting my feelings. You won't.

The last line of that last quote from Chrysostom is a rigorous and unsentimental version of the lesson from the story of the widow's mite: No matter how much you have given, so long as you still have more than you need, you haven't given enough. In a new book titled The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, Peter Singer (yes, that Peter Singer) observes that many people will just give up and give nothing if you convince them that they haven't given enough until they're left with only enough for themselves. A utilitarian, Singer is interested only in results, and he worries that calls for moral perfection (like Chrysostom's, like the Gospel's) might leave the poor worse-off by discouraging those who are willing only to "play at" philanthropy. His alternative proposal: those of us who are neither poor nor rich ought to give about 5 percent of our gross income to the poor; the rich should give about 10 percent; the very rich 25 percent. If everyone did only that, there would be much less suffering in the world, but there would still be luxury -- 25 percent of a billion dollars leaves $750 million, enough for yachts and summer villas and silver toilets (surely they exist). Chrysostom, following Christ, did not derive his rule from a calculation of material effect, and he was worried about both the suffering of the poor and the self-destruction of those who are blinded by luxury.

I thought of Peter Singer while I was preparing the post that began this thread. His argument on this point (I certainly disagree with his views on others!) seems quite valid and recalls the unsettling insistence of the Fathers on the obligation to meet the necessities of the poor out of our superfluous goods. The biblical notion of tithing comes to mind: 10% of our income for the poor. Perhaps that is a start, Bernard.The Christmas before last I went into one of those huge box stores--Best Buy, I think--and remarked to my brother that no one really needed about 90% of what was on sale. But what would happen to our economy if people did not buy superfluous goods?

Hey, Eugene! Nice to hear from you again. I thought you had fallen off the planet. Still the angry Marxist, I see. Are you still teaching at Villanova? Much as I disagree with you, it really is nice to hear from you; I was once an angry (wanna-be) Marxist, and that was when I was in the Air Force! But now, with two beautiful granddaughters and a wonderful grandson, as well as an altogether splendid wife of forty years, I'm still angry, but at different things But enough about me. Glad you're back. Hope you get over the Marxist thing; it really is a destructive philosophy. Seriously.

The first principle of marketing is to get people to buy things they do not need. The greatest fallacy is the savings of a sale on items that you do not need. But shoppers insist that they are "saving." The reason that sharing is problematic is that parishes/churches are not really communities. Has nothing to do with Marxism. The problem starts at the top. South Americans were not welcome into American Catholic churches. That is why they became Protestants. Religious orders do not practice poverty. Most of them are more comfortable than most Middle Class people. So is the vast majority of clergy. But hey they did not take a vow of poverty. They just claim to follow someone who is homeless.This subject is strewn with false ideas. Dorothy Day knew that. That is why she said don't minimize me by calling me a saint. Which is what Cardinal Spellman did.

Bob -- I never was an angry Marxist. I'm neither angry nor Marxist. Why does expressing perplexity at someone's reasoning, or pointing out that reasoning's possible enlistment in the defense of horrors, make one "angry"? Why does opposition to capitalism make one "Marxist"? That's just facile dismissal. And, may I say without a trace of anger or Marxism, you haven't answered my question.

Bernard - you are already giving your all in your marriage and as a father and grandfather- is there anything that distracts you from a continuous conversation with God - "give me love for Thee alone along with Thy grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more" - if love for God and a desire for his presence are your everyday concerns, you are where you should be as to poverty

I suspect that most of us could check our closets, garages, attics (yes, kiddies, some older homes actually have them) and thos ubiqutous "storage lockers" that cost a shocking amount to rent, we would find oodles of extra clothes and things that we could easily do without.I live with someone who NEVER gets rid of anything! The idea that a man in his late 50s could EVER get into clothing from college days (or would actually want to) is ludicrous. I'm sure that we all can cite similar situations within the scope of our own broader or narrower households. Question: how many of you have more than one TV or computer? And, if you are a couple that is retired, more than one car?

Surprising conclusions from Peter Singer, the ultimate utilitarian: 1) A wealthy but selfish entrepreneur can do more good than a middle class donor giving 15% (or all) of his income to the poor. 2) Colonialism may have done more for the economies of poor countries than contemporary foreign aid. Humanitarian interventions in some cases may also be necessary.These topics are part of a discussion between Singer and an economist (too market-oriented for most on DotCom but hes not a purist and not a utilitarian). The whole discussion is interesting but if you dont have time for the full 51 minutes the segments What is the most effective way to end poverty and Advice for a young utilitarian are especially worthwhile. Cowen advocates simply giving money to individuals and bypassing both charities and governments.

Bernard: there used to be times when I had extra money, but no pressing need to alleviate; and other times when some emergency or call for donations tugged at me, but I had no money that I could give at that time. Here is a solution that I highly recommend: open a "charitable bank account" (Fidelity has some, for example). When you happen to have extra money, you can put it in the account; when you see something where you want to help, use money from that account. That has streamlined my giving and made it automatic, like paying bills, and it is simply part of my budget. Maybe people here are used to that, but for me it was a big novelty - when I lived in France, giving was either symbolic or an occasional impulsive move, but never a planned and regular occurrence. The upside is that it is much, much more regular. (The downside is that it becomes more businesslike and takes most of the fun out of it, but you wouldn't give money just to feel good, would you?) Then, I suppose that you might want to think about leaving a legacy. I don't know much about that, except that the law in France says that if you have n children, you can donate at most a 1/(n+1) fraction of your assets to charity; that is, the poor can be treated as one more child. Perhaps that's a reasonable guideline if one doesn't want to be too radical. You'd have to speak to an attorney about that, I suppose.But then again, I'm a novice at this and it is likely that many reading this blog know much more about giving than I do.

Eugene:Its just that you express yourself much as Marxists do, and your intensity sounds like anger to me. But I take your disavowel of Marxism at face value, and in addition, I apologize for calling you one. So, on to your question: Some water has gone under the bridge, so I'm not clear about which question you would like me to answer. If you restate it, I promise I will do my best to answer it. Fire away. --> Participate in Sacrificial giving --> scroll down to "witness talks" from some people in the pews about why and how much they give.

Folks, thanks much for your comments on this "exercise" that I've suggested. I've found your comments enlightening. I hope that you too have found this exercise of some worth. Obviously, we have not come up with "answers." But we've hit upon several relevant considerations.Let me make a couple of observations. First, re Singer, and utilitarianism in general. It's surely right that we have to pay attention to our actions and ask about their practical efficacy, their benefit to society taken as a whole. But it does not follow, or so i think, that these considerations of efficacy are sufficient to determine the propriety of any action, pattern of activity, policy, etc. Somewhere along the way, it st seems to me that the Gospel is asking for more than "efficiency" in our response to its message of love of others. So, is it good enough for me to invest my "excess" well and increase its total and then, WHEN I'M NO LONGER AT RISK OF ECONOMIC HARDSHIP, will it to poor people or charitable causes?Second, as someone who has benefited from being in the U. S. with its economic strength often won at the expense of people in "underdeveloped" lands, does my prosperity owe nothing to my wholly unearned favorable circumstances?I have no sense that i'm called to anything like St. Francis's prophetic poverty. But does justice somehow weigh on me?Finally, Jim S., seriously you are so kind. I'd love to have you as my advocate when I'm asked what i have done for the least of the Lord's children.Again, thanks to all of you who commented. I hope that exercises like this might serve as modest examples of how we as a Christian community might come to reflect together on big questions like how we live in the light of the Beatitudes.

Thanks, Joe, for the illuminating and trenchant references. Clearly the message about greed, avarice, and the treasures of the heart are perennial challenges. What I wonder about is the degree to which our contemporary economic arrangements depend upon continual economic "growth" and the "stimulation" of "demand" and "consumption." Of course some of the stimulation for additional demand can be justified if it is directed toward public goods that are truly needed (e.g., repairing aging infrastructure) and toward helping the truly needy meet basic necessities. But how much does our economic welfare depend upon large numbers of people regularly spending for things that they really could well do without and the production of which may well involve negative externalities like pollution and resource depletion? What if everyone really lived as simply as they could...would our economy collapse in a deflationary spiral, throwing millions of people out of work? And would this also harm workers around the world if their exports to the US collapsed?And our churches, our Catholic universities, hospitals, charitable institutions, they not to a large degree depend for their existence and operation upon the accumulated wealth that this economy generates? I think, for example, of the Lilly Foundation here in my own state of Indiana...which disperses literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year to religious and educational institutions. Their money originates with Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical giant and the maker of Prozac (not to mention Cialis). The interdependencies of the modern economy really are mind-boggling, especially for a non-economist like me.That said, I personally do strive to live as simply as possible... though of course everyone defines simplicity and thrift in their own way. And truth be told, I like nice things like broadband internet and dependable automobiles (though I'll take a pass on the silver chamberpot). And to say this commits me to a certain approval of the economic system that brings these goods about. A very interesting conversation...

There is a world of distance between the exciting texts quoted by Father Komonchak and our society. To me it seems irreconciliable. Anything I would do that would be "reasonable" here would be such a weak, feeble response to the calls of those texts, that they seem almost ridiculous. Anything I would do if I took those texts to heart would be deemed crazy here.Many of us want possessions, not for ourselves but for our children. Why should we give more to our children than to the stranger begging at the door of our church? - Crazy suggestion.Most of us have assets, not for using but to prepare for the future - retirement in particular. Why not give it all away and trust that someday someone will take care of us when our turn comes? - Crazy suggestion.

Morris and Claire raise important questions that cannot be answered simply by appeal to biblical or patristic indictments of superfluous possessions. Willy-nilly, we are involved in an extremely complex global economic system--you could make a fair-size book simply exploring the economic, social, cultural, technological webs that make this form of communication possible. Short of going off into the desert, I do not know how anyone could avoid being implicated in these vast webs of inter-relationships.Claire evokes the question: Is saving for one's retirement condemned by next Sunday's Gospel? Morris reminds us that computer is a superfluous possession. For that matter, so is a subscription to "Commonweal"! I believe that the "spiritual Franciscans" of the first or second generation after St. Francis condemned the possession of pens and books that were used by the friars who studied at university.

A subscription to Commonweal superfluous? Perish the thought!I think it was Serapion, a follow of Antony, the desert father, who sold his book of the Gospels and gave the money to the poor, saying "I have sold the book that told me to sell all that I had and give to the poor."

Fr. Komonchak makes reference to this coming Sunday's Scripture readings. Sr. Barbara Reid has a fine column in America about these readings. Roughly, she says:1. Everything ultimately belongs to God.2. Hoarding by the rich for their own purposes at the expense of others is clearly condemned.3. Those who live in impoverished conditions, through no fault of their own. are fully justified in working for a more just social distribution of economic goods.She doesn't say, but i would add that we who are well off have some ongoing, nontrivial obligation to support the poor in such efforts.None of this tells any of us exactly what to do, but these considerations do help define the field within which we ought to deal with our wealth. To ignore these considerations, or to postpone indefinitely addressing them, strikes me as objectively indefensible.All these comments suggest to me that there ought to be much more explicit talk about all this at all levels of the Church, parish, diocese, etc. Pope Benedict has regularly called for us to face these questions. To deal well with them I think that we all, clergy and laity, ought to really converse with one another about how we deal with this.Note the connection of this general issue with all the questions about "sustainability." Daniel Callahan has talked about the unsustainability of our current consumption of health care resources. Lots of people are now talking about the unsustainability of our present fuel consumption, etc (think climate change). I submit that at least here in the U. S. the public face of the Church seems to be, even if understandably, so focused on matters of sexuality in one form or another, that we are not having robust conversations about wealth, etc. That means that we're not devoting the proper attention to the implications of the Beatitudes.

If I buy something I don't need such as girl scout cookies, I am supporting their fund-raising efforts.But if I buy something I don't need such as an expensive jacuzzi, I am supporting the economy and helping provide work?

Our local paper has a story today about Sen. Kerry's 7-million-dollar yacht and where he will berth it. And the rumor is that Chelsea Clinton's wedding will cost into the millions of dollars. And I was told the other day that it was not unusual for a wedding and reception today to cost $35,000. Isn't that sometbing that dioceses and parishes could try to discourage.And at the other end there is the cost of funerals, casekets in particular. If you want to buck that trend consider the plain wooden caskets made and sold by Cistercian monks in Iowa. Go to, although I just tried that and couldn't get on.

"I submit that at least here in the U. S. the public face of the Church seems to be, even if understandably, so focused on matters of sexuality in one form or another, that we are not having robust conversations about wealth, etc."Sadly, the church has focused excessively on sex throughout its history or at least since Augustine. It clearly defines that consenting to an impure thought is a mortal sin while it is mostly evasive on the use of riches. Not only is it slow to fault the rich person in accordance with the words of Jesus, too often it courts the rich and famous. Too many casuists have butchered the needle entering the eye of the camel lesson. The passage means what it reads. Very difficult for a rich person to enter heaven.I would say this is a systemic problem. People like Basil have tried to keep the church on tract but it has been a lonely road.

Joe, $35,000 might be true in the Midwest. In New York many fathers of the bride would take that figure in a NY minute if it were offered such a low sum. More like $80,000. Or $50,000 at a minimum. As to dioceses and parishes discouraging such profligacy, they seem to be part of the problem, charging $850.00 for a wedding. Greed seeps in everywhere it seems.

Some random thoughts. IT seems to me that the most fundamental moral problem is not that most Americans have so much but that that so many poor have so little. We need to overcome the old assumption that there is just one unvarying economic pie that has to be divided up equally for all. But this is simply not so. It can be made larger, and for those who work harder, justice requires a larger reward. We must recyle materials because even now there aren't enough of all of them to go around. If our products were of better quality, and if we didn't have to work so hard to replace things, our work weeks could be reduced and employers could hire more poor people in our stead. In other words, poverty is related to the quality of our products. Improve the quality and improve the opportunities for the poor to work. The only way to have enough materials for everyone is both to recycle and to limit the size of the world's population. The materials pie IS limited, but the official Church will not face the fact that we have reached a point when parents cannot have all the children they might want even if they have enough money to support them. To return to the microlevel -- what to do with one's spare cash? I would guess that the Bible's recommendation to tithe is normally the right amount, but desperate circumstances should alter that. For instance, Haiti right now simply needs more help than usualIt also seems to me that what we ought to seek isn't just equal minimum incomes but equal economic opportunity. Easier said than done, though. Should we let all the Mexicans into the U.S. who want in? That's a very hard question. Uprooting fathers and whole families as happens now involves terrible loses, if not monetary ones. Long term the Mexicans would probably be better off staying there and forming a non=violent revolt. We, on the other hand should, I think, support NAFTA or something like it, and we need to insist that the Mexican hierarchy preach this message to the rich Mexicans. And let the Opus Dei folks do right by the poor in its place of origin (Mexico) and spend their money on the poor they bilked in the first place. There still seems to be a certain Janssenism in American Catholicism that urges sacrifice for pain's sake. Out of this grows a certain "everyone-must-live-simply" mentality which I also think is not Christian. God invented a richly adorned world. The message to me is: simplicity is not the only value. I happen to lean towards simple things, but this isn't a moral issue in ordinary times.It seems that historically the poorest in Western countries have been the artists. (Think "starving artist".) Is it ascetism or stinginess or guilty consciences that make us short-change them? I suspect it's all three. If we changed our attitude to owning beautiful things we'd probably discover that a few really beautiful (and, yes, expensive) objects are far more satisfying than the mounds of jung we fill our dwellings with, and there would have more money to give to the poor. The Japanese can teach us a lot about that too, I think.Last, I think we have a moral obligation to learn some economics so we can vote more intelligently, more compassionately.

for those who work harder, justice requires a larger reward. Not so clear if you think of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. I would like to consider that tax money spent maintaining buses and basic utilities, providing healthcare to the poor, education for all, and free public libraries, is part of my contribution to the common good. Part of our taking care of one another in solidarity.

Claire ==That story is something of a mystery to me, and I think of it more about keeping your word than about paying equal wages for equal work. I think of it as a matter of supply and demand -- if there were lots of workers early in the a.m. and not so many later, then the employer would have to pay more to thee later ones. And I do think that the principle allowing demand to set prices is in the long run the most efficient and fair one. There just is no way that every part of every economic exchange can be weighed in isolation from other info, and that info is rarely available.I agree about the tax money going to the poor, but such taxes are also insurance for ourselves -- they also assure that we are ever up against it there will be help for us too. So it's not pure gift, I think.Ultimately, I don't think there is any one rigid portion we ought to give, though tithing probably is a good guide in average times. We should give according to the needs of the time, and that means giving our fair share of what is needed. And I think that those who are literally closer neighbors (e.g., the Gulf coast people for me) should be able to count on those nearest. It's more efficient for a number of reasons.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard is a parable, not a lesson in how to conduct one's business or pay one's workers. The point is that Jesus' hearers should not be resentful because God chooses to give his saving mercy to those who come late to repentance. Scholars relate it as another answer to those who criticized Jesus for eating and drinking with sinners: God chooses to be as generous to the sinners as to those who think of themselves as righteous, and no one of the latter has reason to complain. His critics "grumble" like the older son in the parable of the Prodigal Son (should be Prodigal Father). One translation has the master say to be grumbler: "Are you resentful because I am generous?"

Bill Mazzella: If your figures about the cost of weddings is correct, the scandal is even greater than I thought. I must say I have never heard of a church charging $850 for a wedding, but if one did, that would represent 1% of the $85,000 wedding, and 1.7% of the $50,000 wedding.

" Scholars relate it as another answer to those who criticized Jesus for eating and drinking with sinners: "How so? Thanks for the other explanation (which I don't find entirely satisfactory, but anyhoo.)

High-school proms are like mini-weddings: kids "have to have" this or that because everyone else does it. New ball dress, new shoes, hairdresser, getting their nails done, flowers, limousine, before-prom party at some parent's house, after-prom party. Almost impossible to resist when my kid argues that that's the way it's done in the US, and when all other parents seem to cave in and to find it normal, thus confirming her claims.If weddings are the next extravagance, and if, when my kids get married, the other set of parents want to do it that way, then I'm not looking forward to that fight...

Thanks to Tony Godzieba, here is the link to the Trappist caskets:

About sustainability and population growth --The NYT today has the latest figures on projected world-wide population growth. By 2050 there will probably be an increase of over 3 billion people.. is most surprising to me: ""The Population Reference Bureau said that by 2050, Russia and Japan would be bumped from the 10 most populous countries by Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo."Where are all the trees that will be needed just for textbooks for all those kids?

There is not one of us posting or lurking on this site today who cannot do something well within ourpersonal or family budgets to help those who don't have an essential service that we take for granted.Here is a good place to start:

--- the cost of funerals --- The Archdiocese of Chicago is reputed to be the largest provider of affordable funeral services within its geographical boundaries. The Diocese of Oakland, CA, is beginning to buy and rehab older funeral homes, particularly in lower income areas, in order to do the same. (Unfortunately the crypt beneath the new cathedral doesnt meet those criteria.) The funding for the Oakland efforts is via a 501(c)3 organization that cannot be touched by the bishop so assets found therein will remain dedicated for their original purpose. This is one way that the church can put its money where its platitudes are.

"High-school proms are like mini-weddings: ---"And if you are Hispanic with a 15 year old daughter:

Ann: Here are a few quotes from the scholars:The original emphasis of the parable probably lay in the saying of the owner, I choose to give to this last as I give to you (v. 14). God is not answerable to man for what he does with his rewards. He can do as he pleases with his gifts, and his generosity is not to be complained of by men. And the setting in the ministry of Jesus is probably his controversy with the Pharisees over his treatment of the tax collectors and sinners; he admits them to his fellowship, he eats and drinks with them, he invites them into the kingdom, because God who has sent him is generous with his forgiveness and mercy; those who complain in the parable are the Pharisees who, like the older brother in the Lucan parable of the prodigal son, claim more from the Father because of their good deeds (Lk 15:11ff)." (J.C. Fenton, who appositely quotes Paul: What shall we say then? Is there injustice on Gods part? By no means! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So it depends not upon mans will or exertion, but upon Gods mercy (Rm 9:14ff).Joachim Jeremias points out that in two-part parables, the point always lies in the second part, which in this parable is the exchange between the complaining worker who toiled all day and the generous landowner, who out of his own generosity decided to give to the late-coming workers a full days wages (subsistence wages, we should remember). The parable is clearly addressed to those who resembled the murmurers, those who criticized and opposed the good news, Pharisees for example. Jesus was minded to show them how unjustified, hateful, loveless and unmerciful was their criticism. Such, said he, is Gods goodness, and since God is good, so too am I. He vindicates the gospel against its critics. Here, clearly, we have recovered the original historical setting. We are suddenly transported into a concrete situation in the life of Jesus such as the Gospels frequently depict. Over and over again we hear the charge brought against Jesus that he is a companion of the despised and outcast, and are told of men to whom the gospel is an offence. Repeatedly is Jesus compelled to justify his conduct and to vindicate the good news. So too here he is saying, This is what God is like, so good, so full of compassion for the poor, how dare you revile him?" (Jeremias, Parables, 38.Donald Senior suggests that by the time Matthew recorded this story (his is the only Gospel that has it), the parable may have been understood as directed at the Jewish-Christian members of Matthews community. They were the ones who had labored long and hard in the vineyard (=Israel), yet latecomers, such as the sinners and Gentiles gathered by Jesus and the mission of the early community, seemed to enjoy the same status as those who had borne the heat of the day (you have made them equal to us). The lavish generosity of God toward sinners and Gentiles was not a reason for the evil eye of jealousy. Earlier scenes in the Gospel where the religious leaders protest Jesus association with such social and moral outcasts imply a similar message" (see 9:9-13; 11:16-19).

Chrysostom, with his view of the "state of nature" would have enjoyed "The gods must be crazy".Great sermon by St Basil linked to in the post. For example:"People, whats the matter with you? Who has done this to you, to turn your things into a conspiracy against you? I need them for my life-style. Well, and hasnt your money furnished provisions for wrongdoing? Its a form of insurance. Isnt it rather a means of self-destruction? But moneys a necessity, on account of the children. A fine excuse for greed: you parade your kids, but gratify your own desires. I do not accuse the innocent man: he has his Master, and his responsibilities; from another he received life, from himself he finds means of staying alive. But wasnt this Gospel passage written also for married folk: If you want to be perfect, sell your belongings, and give to the poor (Mt 19:21)? When you asked the Lord for a large family, when you prayed that you might be a father of children, did you then add the following: Give me children, so that I may ignore your commandments. Give me children, so that I might not attain to the kingdom of heaven? And who will guarantee you of your childs intentions, that what you give will be rightly used? For wealth turns out to be, for many people, a minister of impurity. Or dont you hear Ecclesiastes, who says, I have seen a sore malaise, riches kept in store for one who comes after a man, to his hurt (Eccles 5:13). And again, I left it for the man who should come after me. And who knows if he shall be a wise man or a fool? (Eccles 2:18 f.) See to this, then, lest, having accumulated your wealth through countless pains, you prepare it for others as material for sins, and then find yourself doubly punished, both for what you did yourself, and for the means you gave to others. Doesnt your own soul belong to you more intimately than any child? Isnt it joined to you by a more intimate closeness than anything else? Give to it the first privileges of inheritance, provide it with a richer living; and afterwards distribute to your children what they need to get by in life. Often it happens that children who have received nothing from their parents have gone on to establish estates for themselves; but as for your soul, if you dont take care of it, who will pity it?"

JAK ==Thanks for all the interpretations. I can see now that it relates to His eating with the Pharasees. And, yes, it seems to be anti-envy. But if the first workers were indeed offered subsistence wages, then I can't see how we can say the employer was generous to all. I bet something was left out of this story somewhere along the way.

P. S.If it was morally right for the employer to give more than subsistence wages, then it seems that it must not be wrong to own more than needed to just get by. Which returns us to Bernard's initial question.

Ann: The problem wasn't that Jesus was eating with Pharisees. The Pharisees had a problem because he was eating with tax collectors and sinners.Many parables are like jokes. You give only as much information as is necessary for the punch line. When you start a joke, "A man walks into a bar," you don't say what color suit, shirt, or tie he was wearing, where the bar is located, what time of day it is, etc., unless one or another of these details is needed to set up the punch line. So one shouldn't look for further details, omitted from the account of this parable. A denarius was a day's wages at the time. The landowner and the first workers agree on that as the day's pay. If the landowner decides to give a denarius to the ones who worked only one hour, it does no injustice to those who worked all day. But they resent his generosity, and that is the point of his gentle rebuke of the grumbler. Literally, the rebuke is: "Is your eye evil because I am good?"This also is why it is usually a bad idea to psychologize the protagonists in a parable, especially, as too many preachers do, by attributing to them very modern touchy-feely emotions. The issue between the landowner and the grumbling worker is not about feelings, but about the ability to live in a world defined by generosity rather than by strict justice. That is why the comparison to the elder son's complaint about the father's joyful party at the return of his younger son is so apt."Sarah Brosnan did a study on monkeys. Monkeys had to hand a small rock to researchers to get a piece of food in return. Monkeys were happy to do this to get a piece of cucumber. But the monkeys would suddenly act insulted to be offered cucumber if they saw that another monkey was getting a more delicious reward, a grape, for doing the same job."The one who got cucumber became very agitated, threw out the food, threw out the rock that we exchanged with them, and at some point just stopped performing," says de Waal."It is normal and natural to grumble if the reward system is not strictly just. Fairness is the natural law, and generosity is not only counter-cultural but also counter-nature.

Claire --Amazing. One can't help but wonder sometimes about the rationality of other animals. A wise old priest i knew, our Newman Club advisor, was asked what to do about dolphins if they really can think like humans. "Baptize them," he said. I must admit that presents a serious philosophical-theological problem. Enter Peter Singer again. He is very much into animal rights. I admire him very much because he is willing to accept responsibility for the implications that flow inevitably from his premises. Are pigs rational? If so, we ought not to eat them, to put it mildly. It would be like eating babies. And you think abortion is evil?) Is rationality the only criterion for recognizing rights? And what exactly is rationality? But that's a whole other thread or 20.

Ann. I'm a farmer's grandchild: I like to respect animal rights by making sure they lead a healthy life, by enjoying the food obtained by killing them, and by respectfully eating every little bit without wasting any. As soon as you start talking of baptizing animals, you have lost me completely.

Claire --I'm not baptizing them, it's the old priest who drew the logical conclusion: if dolphins are rational animals, they are the same species that we are, so they ought to be baptized. (IF!) No, I don't think there are any theological hints in Scripture or Tradition that that they might be rational animals. But there is no hint in Scripture or Tradition that the Earth goes round the Sun either. In other words, I think we have an obligation to consider the findings of science when the evidence is there. Looking human isn't the point. All monkeys look more or less human.HIstorically the Church has taught (or, I should say, it has taught me) that brute animals have no rights. We are supposed to not be cruel to animals not because cruelty is bad for them, but because of what being cruel does to us -- it makes us live on a brutish level, or so it was said. But it seems to me that the more that we learn about the animal world and the more it becomes apparent that some of them have some sort of instinct (?) for justice, that they must have some rights not to be treated badly. How far their abilities extend, who knows. But I'm quite sure that the theologians should give the problem more attention.

Those who have followed this thread may be interested in two publications from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press-- --: St. John Chrysostom, On wealth and poverty, which has his seven sermons on Lazarus and the rich man, and St. Basil the Great, On social justice, which has five sermons attributed to him. The volumes appear in the Press's "Popular Patristics Series."

Thanks. It's been fun using the links of this thread while reading the texts, quite different from merely relying on bible and prayer. Good luck preaching tomorrow if you are.

Ann, I've never thought of why animals might have rights. I think of them as being part of creation and of our interaction with them as being, ideally, a harmonious equilibrium. But that's all off-topic.

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