The Proletarian Snobbery of CNN | Dr. Adam DeVille | Catholic World Report
Scripture rightly refuses either to demonize the rich or to romanticize the poor
It’s a tricky thing, in the era of Pope Francis, to get the optics of ostentatious poverty just right. CNN recently published a piece, “The lavish homes of American archbishops” that featured a hit parade of houses belonging to Roman Catholic archbishops in the United States and helpfully provided estimates of how many millions many of them are worth. Lest we miss the puritanical point, the piece begins with a shot of the Pope’s bedroom: see how simply he lives—a mere guest-house away from the palace! And now see how these bad bishops haven’t gotten the memo yet.
The CNN piece reflects barely half the story of how Scripture and Tradition consider riches and poverty. The articles does offer a salutary reminder that Pope Francis is, entirely rightly, reflecting the dim view of riches that one finds throughout Christian history. Scripture and Tradition warn again and again about how wealth and its pursuit can destroy you and harm many others as well.
But that is only part of the story, and nowhere in Scripture’s many warnings will you find Jesus telling us all to live in a box under a bridge foraging for bugs and berries and begging drinks off the bird fountain in the park. The Jesus of the New Testament is far more complex than that.
Consider but one story: his rebuking Judas for the latter’s crocodile tears at the ointment used to anoint Jesus’ feet before his death. Jesus says to Judas, “The poor you will always have with you,” not as an excuse to do nothing (the Catholic Church today serves more poor in more ways in more countries around the world than any other organization) but as a reminder that enjoying a foot rub or a good meal or a nice home does not in itself mean that someone else necessarily wanders about hobbled, hungry, and homeless—nor that giving up the foot-rub is going to make much difference to large-scale poverty.
Jesus refuses to play the optics game, and we can be sure that were CNN around in his day, the “gotcha” headline would have read: “Unmarried Rabbi’s Expensive Foot-Rub with Woman Raises Troubling Questions.”
To be sure, the rich are going to have a harder time of it (cf., inter alia, Mark 10:17-27 and James 5:1-6), for wealth is often a stumbling block to attaining heaven (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). But it is not impossible to get to heaven, and we must remember that. (How easily we forget about such Old Testament figures as the wealthy Job who found favor with God.) In sum, Scripture rightly refuses either to demonize the rich or to romanticize the poor.
But the fawning coverage of Pope Francis’ frugality—and, before him, the sneering attacks on Pope Benedict XVI, and now on the American bishops—is not really about poverty.