Q. Recently, my seventh-grader came home
from his CCD class and said that his teacher had taught them that all rich
people are "evil, going to hell and don't work" and that all poor
people are "good, going to heaven and work hard."
In the teacher's defense, English is her
second language, so it's possible that something was lost in translation — but
that was still the lesson my son came away with.
Then, three days later, we received a
request from the diocese asking us not only to match our donation from last
year, but even to increase it a bit. There occurred to me the irony of what my
son was being taught against what the church was asking from us — and it made
me very angry.
So, are the rich really doomed to hell?
And should I say something to the CCD supervisor? (This whole affair, in fact,
has made me question whether to stay with the Catholic Church.) (Roanoke, Va.)
A. First, to answer your theological question. No, riches don't
necessarily doom people to hell. It depends what they do with those riches, how
they share them.
Joseph of Arimathea, described in Matthew's Gospel as a rich man
and a disciple of Jesus (he could afford a rock-hewn tomb for Christ's burial),
is venerated by the church as a saint.
Pope Francis, writing in 2014 to the world's economic elite
assembled in Switzerland, said that "it is intolerable that thousands of
people continue to die every day from hunger, even though substantial
quantities of food are available, and often simply wasted." The
responsibility to share hangs heavily on individuals as well as on nations.
In a homily at his morning Mass in May 2016, Pope Francis
commented on the biblical warning that "you cannot serve both God and
mammon." He explained that the problem comes when one begins to idolize
money. "Riches," said the pope, can become "chains" that
take away "the freedom to follow Jesus."
Riches, then, are a blessing that must be managed: They come with
a moral duty to help the needy. And the church in its fundraising relies on the
generosity — the sacrifice, even — of its members to help the vulnerable whom
society tends to forget.
As for your own next move, you should surely speak with the
religious education director or your pastor. If that is actually what the
teacher said, she is wrong and needs to be corrected; if — and this is more
likely — she was simply misunderstood, she needs to correct that, too.
And as for your staying with the Catholic Church, I trust that
your allegiance does not depend on the words of one CCD teacher. It really has
more to do — doesn't it? — with the teachings of Jesus, the availability of the
sacraments and the long history of the church as the protector of the poor.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at
firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.