The Church is Rich, But We Are Poor

We have heard it before: the Vatican should sell its works of art and feed the world. In reality, that would probably only feed the world for a few days. Plus, it is impoverishing on another level to remove beauty from the public eye and hide it in the storehouses of the rich. The Vatican is open to all, and the Vatican Museum is free to enter on the last Sunday of the month.

Many forget that the Church is the largest charitable organization in the world. In the United States alone, in 2022, Catholic Charities served more than 15 million people in need. Through its network of staff and volunteers, it provided 30 million meals, helped mothers and babies, and facilitated countless hours of counseling services. And that’s only one group in the U.S. Church helping those less fortunate.

Besides supporting these organizations, Christ requires all of us to attend to the needs of the poor in our midst. Whether with our time, talent, or treasure, we are not to overlook this Gospel command. As Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput of Philadelphia often says, “If we ignore the poor, we will go to hell: literally.”

But there is another form of poverty among us: spiritual poverty. Even the wealthiest churchgoer is affected by it, especially in the United States, where many of us enjoy comfortable lifestyles. St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty – it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

The Church does not have limitless money, but she does have access to limitless grace, that participation in the life of God inaugurated in us at our Baptism. Grace is never received in a vacuum: in the Sacraments – the chief channels of divine grace – we see the importance of ritual to draw us into, by way of our senses, the hidden mysteries that are unfolding.

But ritual and tradition are not limited to the Sacraments: throughout her 2,000-year existence, the Church has developed many other rites and customs under the guidance of the Holy Spirit meant to enliven the soul and dispose it to God’s grace. It is unfortunate, however, that few Catholics regularly experience these anymore save for Sunday Mass.

How many have heard sung the proclamation of the Birth of Christ on Christmas or the Movable Feasts on Epiphany? How many have attended a Candlemas or Corpus Christi procession? How many know of the custom of blessing wine on St. John’s Day or bread and pastries on St. Joseph’s Day?

These rites and customs are examples of the Church’s true wealth: meant to punctuate our lives with sacred moments, drawing us into the rhythm of the Church, bringing us into contact with ancient faith, and preparing our hearts to encounter God.

Thankfully, we are in the midst of a great rediscovery of the traditions of the Church. Never fear asking your pastor about these traditions – better yet, volunteer to help make them happen. You will be enriching poor souls by doing so – yours included.

Christ came for the poor – all the poor – whether impoverished materially or spiritually. We are not excused from easing the burdens of the former and we would be wise to recognize in ourselves the fact of the latter. If we are attentive to His commands, we will all be rich in heaven.

By Father Philip Maas, assistant pastor of St. Thomas More, Allentown and interim Catholic chaplain at Muhlenberg College, Allentown.


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