Owning Property

Q. It seems that the Church posits man has a “right to private property.” How does this mesh with the fact that Jesus never owned property and taught his disciples to “take nothing for the journey” (Lk 9:3) as they were sent to proclaim the word of God?

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:

In his encyclical Mater et Magistra, Pope John XXIII reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on private property. It is based on Scripture and Tradition and is synthesized by St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught we work harder for what is ours, and that life is more orderly and peaceful when we are responsible for our own possessions. Nonetheless, the right to ownership is not absolute; it comes with social obligations, and St. Thomas taught, “The common interest is to be preferred to private good.”

How does this square with Jesus’ command to sell all, and to take nothing for the journey? In his book on the consecrated life “And You Are Christ’s,” Father Thomas Dubay compares virginity and poverty. “What is most highly praised is a perfect chastity and a factual poverty, both embraced for the kingdom … [these] refer to a deepened sense of being, of total availability to the Lord’s person and his enterprise, of a being sensitized to the new creation.”

The important word here is “most.” This is not a judgment against the holiness of those who marry or own property, simply a statement that marriage and ownership are inferior to poverty and virginity as means to an end.