Clearly, the purpose of wealth is not security. The purpose of wealth is reckless generosity, the kind that sings of the lavish love of God, the kind that rekindles hope on dark days, the kind that reminds us that God is with us always. It creates in the holy heart a freedom of spirit that takes a person light-footed through the world, scattering possibility as it goes.
The only security holy wealth looks for is fruit of the good business practices it takes to keep on making enough money to give it away to those who need it more.
Most of all, perhaps, holy wealth brings in its wake the kind of simplicity that makes wealth a commodity to be shared rather than a product to be flaunted. The wealthiest family I know lives in a small cul-de-sac on the edge of the city in a ranch-style house on a residential street. No great wrought iron gates here. No Olympic swimming pool in the backyard. No private plane at the airport. Nothing but a lifetime of philanthropy and good works, both private and public, both known and unknown, both great and small. It is the kind of wealth amassed to make the world a better place for all of us. We sing alleluia to the wealth that invests in what can be -- as well as what is. This kind of wealth seeds the hopes of tomorrow today. My favorite philanthropist is a woman whose heart is as broad as her soul, whose mind is as rich as her bank account, who has spent her entire life teaching her children to give away what hard work, privilege, and inheritance have given them. This is the kind of wealth that makes a social contribution that long outlives the life of the giver.
For this kind of wealth, we all sing alleluia. There is no room here for resentment or smallness of soul. These are not people whose wealth we begrudge. These are people who show us that love is not dead, that God is not miserly, that unrequited love is possible.
They teach us what Seneca knew in the first century -- that "a great fortune is a great servitude." It puts us in bondage to the needs of the rest of the world. Like the women in the Gospel of whom Luke speaks when he says that "[the women] provided for him out of their own resources," it gives us the power to do good. It is not the amount of money a person has that determines her or his real power; it is what that person does with it that measures her or his lasting influence in a society. Where force can only require us to do something, wealth can enable us to do more than we are. What greater alleluia can there be in the world?
Sister Joan Chittister is an internationally known writer and lecturer and the executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality. To learn more about her, visit www.joanchittister.org.