“Ask a Priest: Is It OK to Feel Attached to a Car?”

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Q: Suppose a person has a special attachment to his car, over all other material things he owns. He doesn’t put it above God or his family or the duties of his life. Is the person sinning by loving that specific thing over other material things? If it is a sin, is it a grave one? — R.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s understandable that someone enjoys certain material things more than others.

But the use of the word “loving” could indicate a less-than-healthy attachment to any material object. Ideally we love only God and other persons.

That “loving” attachment could be an imperfection. Or it could be something more serious, depending on whether this car dissuades the person from other, more important, things, such as generosity to the poor or dedicating time to volunteer work.

That you are asking this question seems to indicate that you are feeling uneasy about someone’s attachment to his car.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is nudging someone to do a rethink.

Attachment to material things has a way of worming itself into a person’s thinking. Today it’s attachment to a car. Next year it’s attachment to something else.

When it comes to material goods we have a duty to be good stewards. That is, we want to use things for the glory of God and for the good of others. This doesn’t preclude our having hobbies, etc. But it’s good to have a sense of balance.

The Catechism offers an overview of the proper attitude toward material goods. Its section on “The Universal Destination and the Private Ownership of Goods” says:

2402 In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

2403 The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

2404 “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.” The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

2405 Goods of production — material or immaterial — such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.

Also, you ask about grave sin. It’s not always easy to pinpoint the line between venial and grave sin.

It’s worth noting, however, that we aren’t in this world just to avoid grave sin. We are here to become saints.

When a questionable attachment arises, a person should ask himself whether he would cling to the attachment if it was “only” a venial sin. If the answer is yes, that is a danger sign. Deliberate acceptance of venial sin can lead to grave sin much quicker than we expect.

Perhaps this is the kind of thing a person would want to take to prayer.

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