Dear Fr. Joe: Did Jesus own the coat he wore?

The church seems to own a lot of gold, art, property; why don’t we sell all that and give it to the poor? Why do any of us own anything?

Great question here. Did Jesus own the coat he wore? Absolutely. But maybe I can suggest that a better question would be  “Did Jesus’ coat own him?” The answer to that would be a resounding  “no.” The key to possessions is that we own them and they don’t own us.

How do we know if that is the case? The first step to knowing if we own something or if it owns us is to break everything we have into two categories: wants and needs.

Wants are things that are there for our enjoyment or pleasure. They bring us a small measure of happiness, but ultimately, they are not things that we must have. I think my sanity is an example of this.

Needs are those things that are important for our survival, or enable us to function in the world. Great examples are my truck and phone – I need these to effectively function as a priest. A serious argument could be made that Double Stuf Oreos are essential to my survival, but I won’t go there.

In terms of wants, we should be willing and able to part with them at a moment’s notice to help someone who will use our help responsibly. If we can do that, then we own our possessions and they don’t own us.

Your next question is one a lot of people ask, and I am glad I finally have a chance to address it here. The church does own a vast storehouse of art and treasures; one look at the Vatican museum or St. Peter’s Basilica can absolutely take your breath away. The sheer beauty of those collections is amazing.

But here is the thing – did you notice that I typed,  “One look at?” That is the key – anyone can see and admire these treasures whenever they are on display. The Vatican doesn’t collect any kind of wealth for and from them – they are available to view at the Vatican, and then often travel to museums around the world. The church acts as guardian of the beauty that various artists have created through the ages.

I found a Web site that states the rest of this argument quite well:

I guess Jesus’ words stand true: “The poor you will have with you always.” (Matt 26:11) Incidentally, he said that in response to his disciples when they objected to a woman pouring expensive oil on his body. They thought she should have sold the oil and given the money to the poor. But Jesus told them that there was nothing wrong with her lavishing this expensive oil on him. In the same way, there is nothing wrong with people donating gold and precious items to adorn a beautiful church building, since this is done to the glory of God.

Make sure and take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 2501 and 2502. They give us a great description of the beauty and power of art.

That’s it for me! Enjoy another day in God’s presence.