My essay in America Magazine: A Gospel for the Middle Class?

My first printed article in a pretty big publication was this essay about poverty, having money and being Christian. It sprang from my own ponderings over Christ’s words in the Gospels about giving up material possessions and the conflict I felt with my own middle class life. The full article is available online here.

I’m still not sure I am doing it right, but we are trying. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Gospel is indeed a message of liberation from earthly suffering aimed at all people, especially those who suffer the most. This naturally comes as welcome news for men and women living with the hardships of poverty. In contrast, for those in the middle class this present life may be so good that they see little need to hope for something beyond what this world has to offer. A “good life” can easily become centered on accumulating more goods, which can distract from eternal realities.

“Still, Jesus’ message is for everyone, and everyone includes homeowners and wage earners. As St. John Paul II put it in his encyclical “Centesimus Annus”: “It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life, which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward ‘having’ rather than ‘being’” (No. 36). To put it another way, having a full refrigerator and dresser is not itself problematic. What ails the Christian life is instead an avaricious desire that places ultimate value in possessions, status and acquiring. Ultimate value stems from God alone.

“Christ teaches us about the proper ordering of values later in the Sermon on the Mount. Directly following the exhortation “Do not worry,” Jesus says: “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:32-34). The key here is in that last sentence. God must come first in our lives, but he knows we need worldly goods, so he provides them as well. Regarding this passage, St. Augustine says in his “Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount” (2.16.53):

When he said that the one is to be sought first, Jesus clearly intimates that the other is to be sought later—not that it is to be sought at a later time but that it is to be sought as a thing of secondary importance.

“Jesus is not saying that we ought not to work to supply our human needs of food, clothing and shelter. That would be irresponsible if we have the means to provide for ourselves and others. What it means is that our efforts to meet our physical needs must be subordinated to our highest good, which, Christ tells us, is to seek God’s kingdom. When that is our primary motivation and ordering principle, everything else will fall into its rightful place.”

-Full article printed in America Magazine, Nov. 9, 2015

Available online here.

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8 thoughts on “My essay in America Magazine: A Gospel for the Middle Class?

  1. Good essay young lady, who I know 🙂. An example that I use for knowing who chases mammon and who does not: Those showing up early for Black Friday or arriving early to be the first to get a new Apple product – maybe even pushing others out of the way to get a better position. These actions are consistent with having an attachment to material possessions. But, having everything one needs, but not being concerned about having the next upgrade, this mode brings peace and more time to be concerned with the “things” of God. Also, quality is better than quantity…that is, having one good thing, instead of many bad things over years, for a long time is good. For example, I had a pair of quality, inexpensive work boots for 28 years until the leather upper tore away such that it could not be mended. I think that if we are buying quality things, then we are making the situation where we can have enough money to help others and to continue to live a life of peace which enables us to continue to grow in holiness and intimacy with God, our Savior. Even religious communities have everything they need to live in peace and intimacy with God. Is this bad, or is this due to orienting one’s life on God instead of mammon?

    If you were to travel to a Latin American country and find a family living in a wood pole hut with a tin roof, with a single power cord running through it which can power essential appliances, and having the option to cook over an open fire, and having a dry floor and comfortable beds and plenty of food, we in the US might see that and feel guilty. Nut if we visiting these folks and discussed God with them, we might find that they are very happy with the peace they have with what they have.

  2. I actually visited people in a Central American country living in a wood pole hut with a tin roof, and they felt blessed to be away from the materialism of the US…they had lived in California previously. 🙂

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