18 February 2019

The Richest Man in Assisi


This past Sunday's Gospel reading from St. Luke's version of the Beatitudes got me thinking about the title of this blog:

The Richest Man in Assisi. 

You see, this title was inspired by the title of a parable that teaches on how to become wealthy, namely:

The Richest Man in Babylon

Going back in time a couple decades, I went through high school just as the Internet was becoming "a thing." Besides chatting with a few friends on ICQ and learning how to download mp3 files pre-black-market-Napster, my primary interest was learning the ropes of stock investing. I joined a local investment club, read books like "One Up on Wall Street," and actually spent time learning about corporate financials. 

I could write all day regurgitating the wise sayings I picked up from great investors. On some level, I appreciated the wisdom and virtue required to find good companies and remain a steady shareholder through panics and recessions. 

But in reality, I was a hypocrite. I bought mediocre companies hoping for a comeback success (that rarely works out). I toyed with an obscure technological device company that was one military contract from shooting to the moon (turned out more like Apollo 13). 

Somewhere along the way, I read George S. Clason's "The Richest Man in Babylon." It's something of a parable for capitalism, teaching the reader how to wisely manage their money. As noted above, while the principles made perfect sense in my head, my heart preferred spending and chasing after quick buck. 

A bit later along the way, my Christian faith deepened, leading to Catholicism and meeting St. Francis of Assisi, who loved Lady Poverty — a total contrast to my Finance degree and penchant for stock picking. Part of what attracted me to St. Francis was how he started out on his way to becoming the "Richest Man in Babylon" — growing up a cloth merchant's son in the twilight of our modern global economy. Francis stood a good chance of becoming  the richest man in Assisi (if not more) taking on the family business. 

So this blog started as a grappling with between two sides of myself:

- One side of me that sincerely enjoys the challenging process and discipline required to be a good steward and investor of material savings. 

- Another side that admires and longs to imitate in some way St. Francis' raw, daring, and "foolish" passion. 

Both sides were hypocrites in their own way. Both enjoyed reading and thinking about philosophical ideals. Both looked good repeating and even applying said philosophy in current situations. Both failed. 

Yet as I heard in Sunday's homily, Jesus taught about rich and poor based on spiritual possessions. Regardless of your net worth (or position in the hierarchical Church), a person who acquiesces to a culture that's contrary to the Gospel is rich. 

Meanwhile, parishioners of the world — refugees making our way toward the Parousia of Christ — must learn to become stewards of whatever possessions we have as nothing really belongs to us.

In the midst of this tension we could be like those few Jewish exiles whose faithfulness to the Covenant allowed them to carry Babylon's blessing (and a portion of her wealth) back to Jerusalem to rebuild God's Temple, which they saw falling into ruin. 

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