Wealth and Responsibility
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Issue Date:  August 12, 2005

Money and Mission

Seventeen years ago the curmudgeonly essayist Henry Fairlie penned a piece for The New Republic titled “Greedy Geezers: Talkin’ ’bout My Generation.” The thesis was that the elderly, and their Washington lobbyists, were “prosperous, hedonistic, selfish and politically powerful.” Like all good provocateurs, Fairlie overstated his case, but he got the intended reaction.

What do the old owe the young? In a society where one of every five children lives in poverty while retirees control nearly a third of the nation’s personal wealth, is it enough to “not be burden on one’s children”? Are we letting the wealthiest demographic group in the country off easy? It’s a topic John DeMott, a skilled reporter and essayist in his own right, tackles ( see story).

“Too much of everything is just enough,” said the poet, but Paige Byrne Shortal asks, “How much is enough?” It’s a good question for young, middle-aged and old alike. We long for the simple life, but also for the bigger house, a better car, the latest electronic gadget. Or perhaps our tastes are more refined: fine wine, good books, a nice meal. Outside the door of the basement office from which I write sits an eight-foot pool table, a ping pong table, a weight set, a large screen television, board games galore, shelves of electronic playthings, computers destined for the dump, stored holiday decorations (Christmas, Easter, Halloween), and even some books. How much is enough? Beats me, but Shortal’s got some insights ( see story).

The American Catholic church is, quite literally, wealthy beyond measure. What price St. Patrick’s Cathedral? At its best, that wealth exists for a reason -- to further the salvific mission of the institution. But nothing, and the church is no exception, always operates at its best. Charles Zech, director of Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management, examines the challenges the church faces in managing its assets -- financial, physical and human ( see story).

Finally, they are, to some ears, the most unfortunate words Jesus spoke. “For you will always have the poor with you …” (Mark 14:7). Those words have been used frequently to dismiss efforts to reduce poverty.

Jim Wallis, the evangelical minister and rabble rouser, reminds us in God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, how the verse is completed. “For you will always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.”

Does that make you feel better? Well, says Wallis, it should. Jesus was telling the apostles that they would live their lives among and with the poor, not in isolation from them. The opportunities for service would be ample.

Many of us are isolated from the poor. And they from us. Which may be part of the reason the programs and policies promoted to fight poverty ( see story) are not what they might be.

-- Joe Feuerherd

American Spending


Newly launched church management group chooses leadership


National Catholic Reporter, August 12, 2005

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