Tag Archives: rich young man

The danger of charity

Marx said that religion was the opium of the people.
But I also know that charity can be the opium of the rich.
St. Alberto Hurtado, S.J.

St. Albert Hurtado was a twentieth century Chilean Jesuit who was an apostle of the poor.

Born poor, he entered the Jesuits and soon became known for his care of the poor, involving his university students in working with the poor. He founded centers for the poor, El Hogar de Cristo, where poor children, and later adults, were sheltered and also trained in various skills.

He also sought to spread the message of Catholic Social Teaching, even starting a periodical and writing several books.

He died on August 18, 1952 of pancreatic cancer.

For St. Albert it was not enough to care for the poor, though charity is essential:

Christ stumbles through our streets in the person of so many poor who are hungry, thrown out of their miserable lodgings because of sickness or destitution. Christ has no home! And we who have the good fortune to have one and have food to satisfy our hunger, what are we doing about it?

One should also seek to make the changes on society that will bring about greater justice.

This morning, I thought about St. Albert’s quote that charity might become the opium of the rich, as I read the Gospel of the rich young man in Matthew 19: 16-22.

If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor – and then come and follow me.

That quotation of Jesus is a continual challenge to me and all of us who are rich – in comparison to two-thirds of the world. Am I willing to let go of what I have?

But thinking of the teaching and example of St. Albert Hurtado, I see not a way out of the dilemma, but a way to start responding to the dilemma of riches and the inadequacy of charity.

Be present to the poor and struggle for justice.

Share what you have with the poor and challenge the structures that keep them poor.

Give away as much as you can – trust in the loving providence of God and live in solidarity with the poor.

Above all, follow Jesus.


Having many possessions

He went away sad,
for he had many possessions.
Mark 10: 22

Today’s Gospel (Mark 10: 17-28) should challenge us, but so often we think that it is only a challenge for the rich young man who came to Jesus seeking to know how to inherit eternal life.

The disciples realized it was challenge for they were amazed and astonished when Jesus noted, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

All those of us who don’t have to worry about our physical survive are in some sense rich. One liberation theologian has said that the poor are those who wake up each morning and have to ask if they will have enough to feed themselves and their families.

The lives of the poor are insecure – and thus they show us the reality of this world, the pain and suffering of the poor and marginalized.

Our riches cannot win us real security, even if we surround ourselves with armed guards and electrified wire fences, as some do here. Our riches cannot win us wealth.

And so we are asked to sell what we have, give the money to the poor, and follow Christ.

Following Christ has everything to do with how we deal with money.

A great example of this is today’s saint, Mother Katherine Drexel. She was born into a rich Philadelphia Catholic family. Her mother died when she was a few weeks old, but her step mother, Emma Bouvier, gave her an example of charity. Three times a week, the Drexel home opened its doors to feed, clothe, and give money to the poor.

That gesture of charity opened Katherine’s heart to the poor.

But she did not confine her love to Catholics or poor city dwellers.  In her travels with her family throughout the US, she saw the poverty and the discrimination against native Americans and black Americans. She finally founded a religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, to care for them.

But even though she inherited great sums of money, none of the money was used for her congregation. It was used to assist works with native and black Americans. This included the founding of missions, schools, and New Orleans’ Xavier University.

The poor at the margins were her concern – as they are the concern of the Lord.

Mother Drexel’s heart was open – and she followed the poor Christ, by sharing with the poor.

What am I called to do?