Identity Based Upon Money


I have a friend who took a vow of poverty 22 years ago.  The first vow was actually taken at least 10 years before that.  And no he was not married.   We had lunch a few weeks ago.  After a touching on a lot of the fiscal concerns in the world, as much as how they affected his job, he asked me at the end of lunch how much my identity was based upon money.  It was a good question.  Afterwards, it hit me that he really might have asked, subtlely, why I was not a priest like him. 


His job was going to become more difficult in the years ahead. My friend had a job where 80% of his time was spent raising money.  Even though he had taken a vow of poverty.  If you worked for a religious institution, the people and their children expected a standard of living in the buildings where they would spend time in formation. 


So how much of my identity was based upon money?  I don’t think any of my central identity is.  But in a sense, money was a language that we all communicated in.  It was how we exchanged things, beyond words.  It was a way of understanding.  Money reflected values of a community.  And values were always debated.  Even if you were Catholic, you had to question why an archbishop would seek more than $30 million dollars for his cathedral.  In a sense the size of the cathedral was part of the mystery that non-believers never understood.  It was why many said the Catholic church had a lot of wealth.  The generosity of Christians could not be grasped by non-believers.  But even Catholics questioned the $30 million campaign when the money could have been better served through corporate works of mercy.  But I think the campaign which happened in St. Paul, and yes, in Minneapolis, had been successful.  Were these just Americans who felt that God deserved a place of worship to reflect their idea of value, the standard of living, in the place where they had come to worship God?   


A standard of living:  I was not sure if a standard in this case referred to some kind of flag, as my unabridged dictionary might suggest.  In visiting college campuses in this decade, I was stunned at what had happened at the university that I had attended.  I authentically love the institution.  But I think “they” now have too much.  The university reflected a lot about this generation of American society.  Abundance.  In the buildings where the children of my generation were spending time in formation, the dorms were nothing like we had had.   There were no aging halls of instructions.  The leaders of this institution had maintained the past well.  But I am not sure if the past was still recognizable.  I was not certain if something had been lost in the transformation.  I was not sure anyone deserved all this.  When there were places like Bolivia. 


Now I have donated to my university’s appeal for funding since I had graduated, through 2005.   I have since sent my donation, their donation, to a university in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in the world.  This school, Unidad Academica Campesina, did not have alumni like me to solicit funding.  It was a part of the world where slavery had still existed in 1953.  The Carmen Pampa Fund in St. Paul raised money for this school which seemed to have strong ties to Augsburg College in Minneapolis, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, as well as the Catholic community of St. Paul-Minneapolis.  And I also had really seen the 3rd world up close in 2006, after I had seen in 2005 the abundance all around the campus where I had spent 4 years, which had been so proudly displayed at an alumni reunion.     


The people overseeing my university, who had taken vows of poverty, had to contend with alumni and their children who carried expectations of a standard of living.  The job of those people overseeing my university who had exchanged things, beyond words, in their vows of poverty, was balancing the needs of the real world with the expectations of their financial supporters, and seeking recruits interested in learning the ideals of this academic Jesuit Catholic institution.  


In one sense, the Jesuits are, with a subtleness that is missed by most, asking each day to their student how much an identity, their identity, was based upon money.  And why there were not more priests.

1 comment so far

  1. writingwithelegance on

    You have some great thoughts here. Welcome to my blogroll.

    I’ve grappled with this issue a lot–I lived in Michigan for a while, and while there I (unwillingly) lived without enough money to…well, live. I’m still trying to figure out how it affects the person I am today. It helps to read this account–thanks for posting.

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