From the Bishops A way to find joy

Is it a sin to be doing well? Is it a sin to have a nice house, money in the bank, a loving spouse and successful children?


The sender of a recent e-mail posed those questions to me while expressing dismay and anger that Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. Catholic bishops seem to be saying that we must reject wealth, repudiate our possessions and deny ourselves all but the very basic necessities of life so that we can help the poor and protect the environment.


Clearly, that is not what the Holy Father and the bishops think, nor is that what the Church teaches.


In my reply to the e-mail, I wrote that the Church’s teachings on wealth and on the environment that are articulated by the Holy Father and the bishops are about sharing and about imitating Christ through our responsible stewardship of all that God gives us.


The Church teaches that success, wealth and possessions are blessings from God. The Church emphasizes that these blessings come with responsibilities and do not of themselves necessarily bring joy and happiness.


I once visited a resident of a luxury condominium that overlooks Lake Michigan along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.


Her house was filled with signs of her wealth: beautiful, priceless antiques and exquisite paintings and artifacts. She had people to cook for her, clean her house, fix whatever needed repair, drive her wherever she wanted to go. She had all those things that many people desire.


But during my visit, I realized that I had very seldom ever encountered someone as lonely and unhappy as the person before me. The contrast between her material wealth and her poverty of spirit was obvious. It seemed to me that she was missing out on one of the great joys of life – to share with others. Sharing would have made a big difference in her life.


Sharing certainly made a big difference in the life of photojournalist Mev Puleo, who was honored by Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Denver for her advocacy for the poor in Latin America.

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Mev came from a successful family. As a young girl, she traveled with her father to Brazil on one of his business trips. What happened to Mev in Rio de Janiero was a turning point in her life.


She recalled riding down a main street in an air-conditioned bus. She looked out one side of the bus and saw gorgeous hotels, well-dressed people and luxury cars. She looked out the other side and saw shanties and people barely clothed, living in despair. She glanced through the front window of the bus and saw the huge statue of Christ on the mountain, with His arms outstretched.


She decided at that moment to spend her life trying to be a bridge linking the two sides of the bus. Before she died at a young age from brain cancer, she lived a life of sharing her many blessings, working with others to address human need as well as receiving many blessings from the poor. Both brought her much joy.


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Is it a sin to have a nice house, money in the bank, a loving spouse and successful children? No, but they may not bring fulfillment and joy unless those blessings are shared.


If we share what we have by giving freely of our time, talents and resources and if we look for ways to be a bridge between those who have much and those who have so little, we are doing exactly what the Church teaches. To do for others brings joy.


Throughout the Gospels, Christ sees and hears the cry of the poor. He responded tirelessly to them, and He remonstrated the disciples whenever they were blind or deaf to people’s cries and pains.


We imitate Christ when we see and hear the cry of the poor and when we stretch out our arms to them and they reach out to us. Much joy follows.

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