What Money Means to a Christian

Book Explains Wealth in Today’s World

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ROME, OCT. 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The danger of riches has long been a core topic for Christian preaching. This month saw the release of entrepreneur Frank J. Hanna’s new book “What Your Money Means: And How to Use it Well.”

ZENIT spoke with Hanna, who has started and financed many businesses, and awarded the William B. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. Through the Solidarity Foundation he donated to the Vatican the oldest copy of the Gospel of Luke and the “Our Father” in the world.

Q: Did you schedule this book to come out at the same time as the current worldwide financial crisis?

Hanna: No, but I will treat the timing as providential. Interestingly enough, there has probably been more public discourse about economics and money during the last month than any recent time in memory. So I think the message contained in the book is particularly relevant to folks right now.

Q: And what is that message?

Hanna: Well, there are actually several messages, but first and foremost is that money is a gift from God that we are obliged to use wisely. Many of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to make money, and we often spend a lot of effort studying the products we are going to buy, like a new car or a washing machine, but we don’t tend to spend as much effort asking ourselves, “How am I supposed to use my money to be a better person, and to help those I love grow in virtue?”

Q: So how does one use money to grow in virtue? Isn’t money the root of all evil?

Hanna: Money is not the root of all evil. Instead, the attachment to money, in place of God, is what damages our soul. For that matter, the attachment to anything that is objectively good can be damaging if we put it before God, for then we have made some thing or person into a replacement for God, and we have violated the first commandment.

And so money, like other gifts from God, is something he gives us in order that we might serve others with it. And in serving others, we grow in virtue.

Q: Does this mean it is wrong to spend any of our money on ourselves?

Hanna: Not at all. In fact, I spend some time in the book exploring this question of how much is enough, both in terms of how much we amass, and how much we spend on ourselves and others, particularly our children. In the same way that someone blessed with a talent or intelligence is justified in using it to provide for themselves and those they love, so too can we use money. But any time we become self-indulgent, or for that matter overly indulgent of our family members, we enter dangerous territory.

Q: So what prompted you, a businessman, to write this book?

Hanna: Socrates said the unexamined life not worth living, and so as a businessman, I resolved that I would not spend my money, my energy and my time in an unexamined manner. But that meant I would have to spend a lot of time examining — money, my own life with money, and the lives and thoughts of others who had dealt with the notion of money.

This book is the result of that examination. I originally just gathered notes for myself. Soon, I realized that I needed to organize my thoughts and notes to be able to have something of a paradigm through which I could understand what I had gathered. And as I pulled it all together, I realized that my brothers and sisters might also benefit from reading it. After he read it, I shared it with some friends, some of whom had a lot of money, and some of whom had to struggle with their financial survival every day, and both groups of friends seemed to benefit from it.

In the end, money is an integral part of the world in which we live, and the failure to think about it clearly can easily lead to hazardous results. Conversely, the proper understanding and use of money can help us lead far more fulfilling lives that we might otherwise expect. In fact, a better understanding of our money can even help us achieve a better understanding of those things that money can’t buy.

Q: Do you really believe that understanding money can help us better understand the things that money cannot buy?

Hanna: Absolutely. Any time we seek to prayerfully discern our use of the blessings God has given us, seeking His guidance, we are going to get closer to him. And so this effort to understand something like money, which because of the physical world of scarcity in which we live necessarily demands a fair amount of our time and attention, is likely to help us obtain wisdom concerning its use.

Once we have wisdom, we are better able to appreciate the non-monetary, non-material things, like love, hope, faith, courage, friendship, and so on. We can start to see money, not as an end it and of itself, but a tool, an instrument, that should help us in our quest for the things of God.

Q: You have received recognition as a philanthropist. How can those of us who do not have the money to be philanthropists give to others?

Hanna: Well, let’s first understand what philanthropy is. The word itself comes from two Greek words: “philos,” meaning “love for,” and “anthropos,” meaning “man.” So by this definition Christ, who had very little material possessions, was the philanthropist par excellence!

We do not need a lot of money to be generous, and again, that is part of what this book is about. The money we have, however much it may be, should be an instrument whereby our generosity is nourished and encouraged. And I think that the better we understand it, and its role in our lives, the more likely we are to meet this ideal.

Q: Is this book on money consistent with the teaching of the Church?

Hanna: I certainly hope so! I had a couple of priests and an archbishop read the draft, as I wanted to make sure I was in accord with the Church’s teachings. I think, however, that it also helps that I am a layman, as the perspective from someone who has been in the trenches of business is, I hope, a helpful contribution.

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On the Net:

«What Your Money Means: And How to Use it Well»: www.amazon.com/What-Your-Money-Means-Well/dp/0824525205

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