Some people make New Year’s Resolutions, but for many of us Christians, the resolve is one that we make related to our sacramental confessions – to do God’s will in all things. Here are a few ideas from St. John Chrysostom for what we might commit ourselves to this year in our effort to follow Christ:
“The sources of our existence have been made common so that we all might live more securely. God has made you rich; why do you make yourself poor? He has given you money, not to shut it away to feed your own destruction, but that you can pour it forth to the benefit of others and for your salvation.”
It is hard to convince ourselves that we can afford to tithe – or that we cannot afford not to tithe, since the tithe is the Lord’s to begin with. Thankfulness of spirit can lead to joyful, generous giving. Entitlement thinking – “everything I have is mine” – can lead to that poverty which Chrysostom mentions above – “you’ll never be rich because you are greedy” (as was told the baker in one of the legends explaining why he abandoned greed and began giving a baker’s dozen to his customers). Thoughts like “I deserve wealth and prosperity” are also a form of entitlement thinking. Entitlement thinking leads to seeing others as a threat – “they” want to take away my entitlements” – which causes us to lose love for one another.
“God has also made the possession of riches unstable so that the intensity of man’s madness for it might slacken. Let us not consider riches to be a great good.”
The instability of the economy, the stock market, investments and retirement funds – this is not merely the risks of capitalism, but Chrysostom says is part of God’s plan to teach us not to greedily trust in riches. Obsessing over profit and prosperity is for St. John a form of insanity which possesses a great many people. Wealth does not equal virtue. Wealth in itself is not the greatest virtue (= good). Love is the greatest virtue and good.
“The great good is not the possession of money, but to posses the fear of God and piety. A righteous man, even if he were the poorest of mortals, would need to but spread forth his hands toward heaven and call upon God, and the clouds would pass away! But gold, saved in abundance, is more useless than clay for delivering one from impending calamities.” (St. John Chrysostom,The Rich in this World, pgs. 6-7)
The pursuit of happiness – a declared right for Americans. Yet often we mistake the pursuit of wealth for this happiness. Indeed wealth can give us a sense of power and well being, but that also can be deceptive. Wealth is one of those things for which an appetite is never satisfied. When is enough enough? What are we willing to sacrifice to gain just 10% more? Freedom or friendship or faith? Are we willing to kill or force others into slavery and poverty so we can have 10% more wealth?
What is the relationship between loving God and neighbor and our own wealth or pursuit of happiness? This is the moral question we must ask ourselves for our personal wealth can never be separated from the ethics taught by Christ in the Gospel.