Rich men,

He who taught us to pray for our daily bread nowhere advises us to secure to ourselves ten years of luxury. We live in days without examples, in which it may be wise to sacrifice the future to the present and the economy to necessity. […] Give the alms of work, and give also that of assitance. […] Give to the asylums and the schools, and do not forget those houses of refuge, convents of the Good Shepherd.

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Frederic Ozanam, article «Aux gens de bien» [To good people], in L’Ère Nouvelle, nº 151, September 15, 1848.

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Reflection:

  1. The unfair distribution of goods is an issue that we can never stop denouncing. Unfortunately, our society — and ourselves — are anesthetized by this subject, and we see how an elite soccer player, to take one example, can earn more in a single day than 90% of the world’s population in a lifetime. And we must say it clearly and loudly: wealth is unjust, and being rich is incompatible with the following of Jesus. Here there is no room for half measures or ambiguous messages.
  2. Jesus Christ was clear: the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor (Cf. Luke 6:17-26). A rich man must convert and change his attitude to enter the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 19:23ss, and Luke 16:19-31). Salvation comes to the rich when he converts and shares his goods (Lk 19:1-10).
  3. The Fathers of the Church also express themselves with great clarity, on multiple occasions since the dawn of the Christian era, on this matter:
    • Saint Jerome: “A rich man is a thief or heir to a thief.”
    • Saint Cyprian: “When the rich do not bring to the Mass what the poor need, they do not celebrate the Eucharist of the Lord.”
    • Saint Basil: “Open wide the doors of your granaries, give vent to your wealth in all directions. Tell me, what belongs to you?, where did you bring anything to life? So are the rich: they take the first of what belongs to everyone and they appropriate it, only because they have overtaken others … If everyone were content with what is necessary to meet their needs and leave the superfluous to the destitute, there would be neither rich nor poor.”
    • Saint Gregory of Nyssa: “If someone wishes to become the master of all wealth, possess it and exclude his brothers, even the third or fourth generation, such a wretch is not a brother but a barbarous and cruel tyrant, a ferocious beast whose mouth is always open ready to devour the food of the other brothers for their personal use.”
    • Saint John Chrysostom: “If wealth produces poverty instead of solving it, it is not wealth, but weapons of destruction of what is human being for nature.”
  4. Saint Vincent de Paul told his missionaries that the virtue of poverty “is the foundation of this Congregation of the Mission”. But this message is valid for any Vincentian, whether secular or consecrated, and any Christian in general: that our life be based on simplicity and detachment from earthly goods. He even went so far as to say that “one of the things I am most afraid of is handling money” (Conference to the Sisters of Charity, August 5, 1657) and that “The man who wants to acquire riches, who isn’t content with his own situation, thinks night and day of nothing but the means he can use to acquire possessions; he has to have things depending on his mood; he has to have them and has to find the means to acquire them. That’s all he thinks about; when he’s alone in his room, he daydreams. ‘Are we always going to be like that? No. no. things won’t be like that: once I’ve done this, acquired that, and once we’ve reached that point, we’ll do this. that, and the other thing.’ And his poor mind gets bogged down with a thousand other thoughts.” (Conference to the Congregation of the Mission, August 13, 1655).
  5. Frederic claims in this text the charity of the one who has goods in favor of the one who needs them. It’s justice. It is true that the worker deserves his salary, but it is unfair that his salary covers “ten years of luxury,” as Ozanam says, or a lifetime of excess, as we see today. And all this, while millions of human beings die of hunger and suffer pain, oblivion, war, poverty.
  6. Today, more than ever, Vincentians must denounce unjust wealth, and do so in word and deed: we can not denounce opulence when we live it; we can not live that falsehood. Jesus Christ, Vincent de Paul and Frederic Ozanam are asking us to live with simplicity, without luxuries, and to help the poor to live with dignity, and the rich to convert their anti-evangelical life into fruits of solidarity.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. What can we do to encourage a more even distribution of goods?
  2. We may read again the texts from the Bible, from the Fathers of the Church and from St. Vincent that have been quoted. What feelings do they provoke in us? What are they asking us to change in our lives?
  3. Do we live with simplicity?

Javier F. Chento
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