On Wealth

"The Church's History is Full of Examples of Rich People Who Used their Possessions in an Evangelical Way"

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 14, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sunday before and after praying the midday Angelus in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

Wealth is the principal topic of this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 10:17-30). Jesus teaches that it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, but not impossible; in fact, God can conquer the heart of a person who has many possessions and move him to solidarity and sharing with the needy, with the poor, to enter into the logic of the gift. This is how wealth presents itself in the life of Jesus Christ, who – as the Apostle Paul writes – “rich though he was, he became poor for us so that we might become rich though his poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

As often happens in the Gospels, everything begins from an encounter. In this case Jesus’ meeting with a man who “had many possessions” (Mark 10:22). He was a person who from his youth had faithfully observed the commandments of God’s Law, but he had not yet found true happiness; this is why he asks Jesus what he must do to “inherit eternal life” (10:17). On the one hand, like everyone else, he is after life in its fullness. On the other hand, being used to depending on his wealth, he thinks that he might be able to “buy” eternal life in some way, perhaps by observing some special commandment. Jesus welcomes the profound desire that is in him and, the evangelist notes, casts a gaze full of love upon him, God’s own gaze (cf. 10:21). But Jesus also understands what the man’s weakness is: it is precisely his attachment to his many possessions, and this is why he invites him to give everything to the poor, so that his treasure – and thus his heart – will no longer be on earth but in heaven and adds: “Come! Follow me!” (10:22). That man, instead of accepting Jesus’ invitation, goes away sad (10:23) since he is unable to give up his wealth, which can never give him happiness and eternal life.

It is at this point that Jesus offers his teaching to the disciples, and to us today: "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" (10:23). The disciples are puzzled, and even more so when Jesus adds: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." But seeing that the disciples are astonished he says: "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.

All things are possible for God" (10:24-27). St. Clement comments on the episode in this way: “The story teaches the rich that they must not neglect their salvation as if they were already condemned. They need not throw their wealth into the sea or condemn it as insidious and hostile to life, but they must learn how to use their wealth and obtain life” (“What rich person will be saved?” 27, 1-2). The Church’s history is full of examples of rich people who used their possessions in an evangelical way, achieving sanctity. We need only think of St. Francis, St. Elizabeth or St. Charles Borromeo. May the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, help us to welcome Jesus’ invitation with joy so that we might enter into the fullness of life.

[After the Angelus the Holy Father greeted those gathered in St. Peter’s Square in various languages. In Italian he said:]

Dear brothers and sisters!

Yesterday in Prague Frederick Bachstein and 13 of his confreres of the Order of Friars Minors were beatified. They were killed in 1611 because of their faith. They are the first persons who have been beatified in the Year of Faith, and they are martyrs: they remind us that believing in Christ also means suffering with him and for him.

[In English he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking visitors present. During this Year of Faith may we, like the man in today’s Gospel, have the courage to ask the Lord what more can we do, especially for the poor, the lonely, the sick and the suffering, so as to be witnesses and heirs to the eternal life God promises. Upon all of you, I invoke God’s abundant blessings of peace. 

[Concluding in Italian he said:] 

I wish everyone a good Sunday. Have a good week. Thank you! Have a good Sunday everyone!

[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]