Are God And Wealth Compatible?

Interview with Fr. Eduardo Camino, a Former Broker

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ROME, NOVEMBER 15, 2002 ( Fr. Eduardo Camino, former broker and now priest and professor of Business Ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, has just published the book «God and the Rich» (Rialp Publishers), in which he addresses the relation between God and wealth.

In the following interview, Fr. Camino emphasizes the Christian value of austerity, and calls for evangelization, not excluding the wealthy.

Q: Are God and wealth compatible?

Fr. Camino: I think that wealth, in itself, is not something evil and that those who possess much property, therefore, cannot a priori, be considered as outside of God’s love or of his plan of salvation.

Perhaps this will be seen more clearly with the following distinction: poverty as a lack of material means is one thing; it is quite another when practiced as a virtue. While the first kind of poverty is generally seen as something that «must be remedied,» in the second case it is seen as something «that one must learn to live,» and in which we can constantly grow.

Q: In what way can wealth be a meeting point for your vocation?

Fr. Camino: God can make use of any circumstance, of any situation to make man conscious of his calling, of his vocation.

He called Peter from the fishing nets, Matthew as he was «seated» on his bench as tax collector, Paul as he was trying to combat Christianity. In this sense, wealth is no better or worse than any other circumstance.

In the book, the issue of wealth is framed by design within that of a vocation, as I think that the exigencies of the virtue of poverty appear with greater clarity and, therefore, are easier to live, when one is able to include them within «that» which gives meaning to the totality of one’s existence.

Q: You suggest that wealth is not an obstacle to seeking God. Don’t you think that the evangelical passage of Matthew’s vocation underpinning the book indicates the contrary?

Fr. Camino: No. Matthew’s «leaving everything» when Jesus calls him is the same thing we see in Peter, Andrew, John, etc.

In Matthew’s case, wealth was not an obstacle to encountering God, neither were the boats and nets for those Apostles who, before following the Master, were fishermen.

However, this requires a further subtlety that is explained in the book when one contemplates the possibility that Matthew, like the rest of the Apostles, could go back to their professions.

Q: In a footnote in your book you say that «poverty must always shine in the Church.» Do you feel that the reality is in keeping with your wish?

Fr. Camino: For God, all the material wealth of this world is unimportant. It is logical that, as a demonstration of our faith and especially of our love, we try, within our possibilities, to give — to reserve the best for him. Those who are in love do not give one another withered flowers or bits of wire.

And this attitude is compatible with the need, on the personal plane, to really live detached from material goods, aware that the concrete exigencies of this virtue depend on the social position and circumstance of each one.

Q: Are poverty, detachment, and austerity essential for Christianity?

Fr. Camino: Yes. Moreover, in a materialistic society like the one we live in at present, perhaps this is a virtue worth emphasizing. In this connection, let me add the following.

I have always considered the Commandments as helps from God to man, who after original sin has remained «muddled» in his understanding and «weakened» in his will. This is why I am amazed by that double divine help to two of our existential dimensions: the sexual dimension and our relation to material goods.

To do so, in each case God has made use not of one but of two Commandments: the sixth and the ninth, the seventh and the tenth. In other words, the degree of disorientation we might have in these dimensions could be such that he has wished to help us both on the external as well as the internal level of thought, desire, etc.. Don’t you think this double help is «tailor-made» for a society that exaggerates sex and money?

Can the wealthy evangelize?

Fr. Camino: They not only can but must. In this connection, those who have a greater quantity of goods also have greater responsibility.

As in so many other areas, here too example is worth more than a thousand words. Example is an essential part of that evangelization. An attitude of «majesty,» of «being above» those material goods, attracts and has much greater force than speeches and logical reasoning.

I am referring to a poverty lived not as a stoic virtue, but in such a way that it is contagious, that it reflects and transmits the beauty and freedom hidden in detachment.

Before the apparent security that is often sought in the possession of ever more material goods, poverty so lived is outstanding, and is revealed as an enormous liberating force.

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