Saturday, July 25, 2009

Can a Good Catholic Be Wealthy? Part I of IV - The Concept of Stewardship

Welcome to my blog! This is my first post! If you want to learn a little about yours truly, please click on the "About Me" link on the right side of this page.

So, where to start? I think I need to justify the existence of this blog before actually getting into investing itself. I don't mean justifying the existence of this particular blog, but rather, justifying investing for Catholics or why the term "Catholic investor" is not an oxymoron. When I say "investing", I'm mostly referring to investing in stocks. I don't know about you, but when I speak to almost any devout Catholic, he/she will automatically associate buying stocks with risky, unresponsible, and even, sinful behaviour (much like bringing your life savings to Vegas). As such, Catholics don't talk about investing much. At most, the conversation would be limited to investing in mutual funds, which for some unknown reason, seem to be more ethical than investing in stocks. Let me be clear right from the start: investing in stocks is absolutely ethical!

Investing is about increasing wealth. So, the question is this: Can a good Catholic be wealthy? I will attempt to address this question in my first 4 posts. This first post will focus on the concept of stewardship. The second will take a look at the lives of a few saints, who also happened to be very wealthy. The third will examine the story of the rich young man who went to seek advice from Jesus. The last will look at the ethics of investing in stocks versus mutal funds, bonds, etc.

Let us start from the beginning, the VERY beginning, I mean. In the story of creation, God made the earth in 6 days (whether this creation story is historically accurate is NOT the focus of this post, but all Christians will agree that its spiritual and didactic significance is great). After he had made man and woman, he said to them, "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth" (Gen 1:28). This herein lies the concept of stewardship. God made all things that exist, but he also gave humans the dominion over all of these things. We are God's stewards on Earth. What does a steward do? He takes care of the household and carries out the will of the master.

What exactly is the will of God? Let us take a look at the parable of Talents in Matthew 25:14-30:
[The kingdom of heaven] will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one - to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.' Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, 'Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.' Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.' His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'

It is strikingly clear what the will of God is, as illustrated by this passage. In the story, the master gives his servants a certain number of talents (which refers to a unit of money). They were all expected to increase that wealth. In fact, the one who did not increase the wealth was ordered to be thrown "into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth" (i.e. hell or somewhere close to there!). Why is it that God wants us to multiply? It is for a simple reason, that all of his creation is essentially good and we should increase this goodness.

However, some may argue that the talents in parable are simply a metaphor for something other than money. Perhaps, it refers to our actual talents or skills. My response to that argument is yes, they do refer to those things, but money or wealth is not excluded. Money, in itself, is not evil. In fact, money, when used in the right ways, is very good. Think of the times you went to the supermarket and paid for the food that filled the stomachs of your family. Or think about the time when you donated your money to a just cause.

The conclusion, therefore, is yes, Catholics can be wealthy! It is totally ethical and could very well be the will of God. But just hold on for a minute, don't get carried away so soon! In the parable, each servant had to return all of the talents back to his master. As such, we are called to increase the wealth that God bestows upon us, but the use of that wealth is not for our own extravagant luxuries, but rather, we are God's stewards of this wealth. We must carry out God's intentions for the use of that wealth. It does not necessarily mean giving away all of your money and then sleeping under a bridge, but it does involve moderation and consideration for our fellow brothers and sisters.

I hope this post has helped you understand that as Catholics, we are called to be stewards of God's creation. We are also called to increase and multiply, because all of God's creation is good. It is ethical and morally acceptable for us to invest and increase the wealth that God has given us, but more importantly, it is our duty to use that wealth according to His will. In my next post, we shall take a look at various saints who were very wealthly in their lifetimes and how they used that wealth. It will give us a clearer idea how we should use our wealth to follow God's will. Until then, keep investing!