Do Catholics have a responsibility to create wealth?
That’s a question you don’t often hear raised from the pulpit, but Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church do address it.
The Catechism says, “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” (No. 2404). The phrase, “with the task of making it fruitful” includes the responsibility for wealth creation.
The responsibility for creating wealth is also described in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In this story, the two servants who grow the talents they have been given are commended and given more. The servant who buries his talent is chastised. The message is clear: The Lord wants us to grow the resources we have. Why? So, we can provide for our families and assist with the needs of others.
Pope Benedict XVI has touched on the responsibility that we have to create wealth while speaking about the issue of poverty. In his 2009 World Day of Peace message he said that trying to solve the problem of poverty solely by redistribution of existing wealth is an “illusion.” He continued by saying that “wealth creation therefore becomes an inescapable duty, which must be kept in mind if the fight against material poverty is to be effective in the long term” (No. 11).
While the creation of wealth can be a source of great good, it also has the potential for harm. Consider Mark 8:36: “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” The question is whether we are creating wealth to be used in ways pleasing to the Lord. We don’t want to fall into the trap of “having” rather than “being,” as Pope John Paul II so often reminded us.
There are many paths to creating wealth, but the key is to have a multiplier effect. Entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. They develop a business model, prove its effectiveness and then expand it.
Only a small percentage of the population are entrepreneurs. As a result, wealth creation for most people will result from steadily saving and investing a portion of their salary over a long period of time. In this case, the multiplier effect is “compound earnings.” To obtain the benefits of compound earnings, you need to invest consistently from an early age, and obtain a reasonable rate of return for the level of risk appropriate for you.
Along with compound earnings, basic investment strategies used to grow wealth include diversification (a biblical principle), risk assessment, asset allocation and rebalancing of your portfolio.
Need for detachment
It’s an interesting paradox. Stewards of Providence are called to create wealth, yet the Lord’s admonitions about attachments to money remain true as ever. So, the challenge is this: to use our talents to create wealth, yet remain detached from that wealth — using it for good purposes. Keeping that balance is a challenge, but a mature Christian is up to the task.
St. Robert Bellarmine summarized it well when he said: “May you consider truly good whatever leads to your goal and truly evil whatever makes you fall away from it. Prosperity and adversity, wealth and poverty, health and sickness, honors and humiliations, life and death, in the mind of the wise man, are not to be sought for their own sake, nor avoided for their own sake. But if they contribute to the glory of God and your eternal happiness, then they are good and should be sought. If they detract from this, they are evil and must be avoided.”
Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.