10 August 2013

The True Treasures of the Church

Sub Tuum.

How do we as Christians comprehend the concept of treasure? How do we overcome the world's view of treasure? Anyone who has been to the Vatican or many of the great churches around the world has discovered a great volume of beautiful art worth a fortune in money. It is easy for the world to claim that these material things are the treasures of the church. It is easy for cynics to accuse the church of being concerned only with such material wealth. Saint Lawrence, though, knew better. He was a Roman deacon in the early Church. As a deacon, he had responsibility for safeguarding and dispensing part of the church's material goods to those in need. After his arrest, he was asked to show his captors the treasures of the Church, no doubt so they could exploit the situation and engage in plunder. Saint Lawrence took them to see the poor people of Rome, whom he proclaimed to be the true treasures of the Church. He was brutally tortured and condemned to die by being slowly roasted. He never renounced his faith. He chose to follow the Cross by taking his own cross.

The world's view of treasure was exemplified by the captor's definition. They defined treasure as material wealth...gold, silver, currency, and valuable goods. They could not comprehend what Lawrence meant when he said that the true treasure of the Church is the poor. They were confronted with the power of the truth of Christ. They did not understand it. Instead, they responded with hate, and Lawrence earned the martyr's crown.

What, then, do we make of the material goods and wealth held in trust by the Church? Those assets are mere tools for the Church militant to carry out her mission here on earth. Money itself is not evil, but the love of money is. Using one's assets for the good of others is a mark of Christian love. To implement this, there must be a detachment from money and material wealth. In a society so secularized and oriented towards money as the end-all goal of existence, it is not easy for people to overcome this attachment. How freeing it is, though, when someone realizes he is a slave to money and profit and chooses to break free from the bondage! The chains of money are strong indeed, but the power of God is far greater. To succeed in this liberation, one need only transfer one's devotion from money to God completely. The more God is in your heart, the less room there is for harmful attachment to other things. Once you succeed in this through a constant process of conversion, you will be freed from your attachment to money. You will see that money is but a tool to be used for the common welfare just as Saint Lawrence dispensed goods to those in need.

The great irony is that those best suited to handle and manage great sums of money are those who are completely detached from money. In today's ultra-capitalist society, very often those who accumulate massive amounts of wealth are far from detached from money. Instead, they accumulate money because that is their goal. They want money for itself and for what it can do for them, not for what it can do for others. That is the trap of money.

Let us look once more at the words of Saint Lawrence that the poor are the true treasure of the Church. Consider your own life. Do you not spend your time and your money on those who are most dear to you? And do we not treasure those people who are dear to us? When we give to those genuinely in need, we are saying that those people are dear to us. We are saying that we treasure them. When we detach ourselves from material wealth and give appropriately of the wealth we possess to others, even those whom we do not personally know, we increase our own faith, we implement the love of Christ in the world, we confront our own shortcomings, and we ignite the Holy Passion in ourselves and in those we help.