Yesterday we read at Mass that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. That is pretty heavy stuff. But the heavier stuff is trying to figure out who the rich man is. It might be surprising.
A good number of years ago I was heading to Zimbabwe with Catholic Relief Services to see the work they were doing there with the “poor.” I was taken to task concerning this endeavor by a person who said, “What on earth are you going to Zimbabwe to help the poor there for when we have people right here in the U. S. who do not have food in their refrigerator?” Not downplaying the true plight that many in our nation face but the poverty of that nation (largely man made) was far worse. Their concern was not an empty refrigerator. They do not have refrigerators or a place to keep one. Even if they did there would not even be a plug in which they might have power for one. There was not a power grid or a power plant anywhere near them. There was no infrastructure, nor rich neighborhood close by where they might even beg a little, and absolutely no voice in their government, no news agency to spread the word – just them in the middle of a desolate area. Now that is poverty. They look on our poor with jealousy. I would not want to be even what we consider poor but for them it would be a giant step up. There is hope that poor in our nation could find clean water, some possible assistance with food and medical help, there is some chance that someone would find some resources for them if they really needed it, that some second hand clothes could be obtained with which to clothe themselves.
So who are the poor and who are the rich? How many people living in the richest nation not only in the world but in all of history could be considered truly poor? How very blest we are! We are so fortunate! Never have so many people lived so well as we. But with such a blessing comes responsibility. We have to face the quandary of the camel and the needle.
What is wrong with being one of the “haves”? Nothing in and of itself. But there are quagmires of which we need to be particularly careful. It is not until you have that you then have something to protect. It is not until you have that you have something to choose whether to be generous with it or not. It is not until you have that pride can take root. When one is a “have” one then also obtains some amount of power and power can be good or corrupt.
Then who can be saved? For us it is impossible but everything is possible for God. That is why we are believers. We encounter Christ daily and especially on Sunday and He shows us constantly how to overcome these pitfalls. And when we fail (and we do and will) He provides us with forgiveness and healing through the sacraments.
Poverty itself is not holiness but a pathway to holiness. Riches themselves are not slides to hell. If we rely on Christ they too can be a pathway to heaven albeit a more difficult one.