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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

March 1, 2009

How rich is rich?

After listening to Cardinal George’s recorded homily about the need for stewardship and watching me fill out the pledge envelope for the Annual Catholic Appeal, Frank asked how much we had given.

I told him in a whisper — this was during the offertory hymn — and then he asked whether that was a lot of money.

That was a harder answer. In Frank’s world, it was a lot — certainly more money than he had ever had direct control over at one time.

For many people, it would probably count as a lot, and for many others, maybe not so much.

For us, it was what I thought we could afford, keeping in mind that stewardship is an obligation that we share.

“It’s enough,” I told him, explaining that some people probably could not give that much, and some people could likely give a great deal more.

Frank thought about that, and then said, “I’m glad I’m not rich.”

Now, on a global level, he is indisputably rich. We’ve never had to worry whether we would be able to afford to feed our family; our problems tend more to working at not over-feeding and otherwise over-indulging ourselves and our children. We have never worried about whether we would have a roof over our heads or clothes to wear or even enough disposable income to buy toys for the kids of all ages in the house.

But compared to some of the families he knows, and those he sees on TV, we’re not wealthy. Others have bigger houses and newer cars, and most everyone he knows has cable television. So I understood why he doesn’t think he’s rich.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be rich?” I asked him.

“Because rich people always have crowds of people around them and they can never be alone,” he said. “And the people only want to be friends with them because they are rich.”

The offertory song was ending, so we didn’t continue the conversation right then. But later, we talked more about how important it is to value some things — God, and people, and your ideals — more than money. People who put money in the highest place are never satisfied because they always want more, but when they get more, it doesn’t make them happy.

That’s not to say money isn’t important; it’s important to have enough to take care of yourself and your family. But once you have enough, the rest is extra.

My husband tells the kids that nothing we have really belongs to us. It all came from God and it all still belongs to God. He just gave it us to use for a while, and when we come face-to-face with him, he’s going to want to know what we did with it. Sharing with someone who needs it more seems to be the right answer, at least according to Matthew 25.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].