“Ask a Priest: Should I Try to Make a Lot of Money to Help the Poor?”

Q: I’ve been thinking about the vow of poverty lately. I am able to become wealthy, that’s what I’ve studied for all my life. I’m getting to an age where I realize how money works as a result of studying it. I came across something else though recently, and as a result I now believe that the reason developed countries are wealthy, and undeveloped countries are not, is a result of our enslaving undeveloped countries. This leads me to believe that our way of life is unsustainable without slavery. The prices of things here, in the U.S., that are produced abroad are not reflective of anywhere near fairness. I don’t want to use anything anymore. Now, I don’t want to ever buy anything anymore. I want this to stop! I need advice. Should I attempt to make money to try to make a positive change in the world, or should I abandon that ambition and just be poor? This is really pressing on me. – Liz

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: For the sake of simplicity it might be better to leave aside discussion of the reasons for underdevelopment in the world. You might, however, find a video instructive and stimulating in that regard; it is at http://www.povertycure.org/.

Now, rather than trying to decide between making a lot of money to make a positive change, or “just being poor,” it might be better to shift your attention.

God has given you certain gifts: your life, education, intelligence, health, etc. You, like the rest of us, are called to become a saint. All of us are called to use our talents for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.

The key to doing this, in your case, is to try to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading you. Discernment can be a tough task; it is certainly an ongoing task throughout life. The question, What does God want of me?, is not always easy to answer.

Perhaps you could step back, look at your talents and interests, and see how you might use them in a way that helps others. This could lead you to a path where you happen to make a lot of money, or maybe it leads you to a path of relative austerity.

In other words, money should be a very secondary consideration. Life is short, after all. St. John Paul II and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta didn’t worry about money.

And money itself can be a temptation. This isn’t to disparage it totally; many wealthy people contribute a lot to the poor.

But again, the key is: what is God asking of you? Here, it helps to have an intense prayer life and sacramental life. A spiritual director and/or regular confessor would be helpful, too. And if you are not used to engaging in daily personal prayer, you might find this video useful, as well as the book A Quiet Place, to help get yourself started.

If you are embarking on a new stage of life, or are at that point where you are making big decisions about the path to follow, you might consider doing a retreat. Spending a few days in silence and intense prayer can give you time to go deep into what the Spirit is asking of you.

As a suggestion, I could point you toward a Regnum Christi retreat. You might be able to find a convenient one at http://www.regnumchristi.org/en/retreats/.

I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.

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