The Catholic Church Is Wealthy, But Jesus Was Poor
Recently, a friend criticized the Catholic Church for being led by a wealthy, powerful man. To illustrate, he pointed to the Pope’s fancy clothes and the big, ornate Cathedrals. “Jesus was poor,” he added.
I often hear this critique. It usually is couched in some sort of pious pretext, such as, “Why doesn’t the Church sell all of that fancy stuff and solve world hunger?”
My first response is to point out how similar this reasoning is to that of Judas:
John 12:5 (Judas’ response to costly perfume being poured on Jesus’ feet) “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
Secondly, no organization does more to help the poor of this world than the charities of the Catholic Church. It’s the biggest charitable organization in the world.
Thirdly, no one lives Gospel poverty as clearly as Catholic saints like Mother Theresa, Benedict, Francis of Assisi, and so on.
Fourthly, spending money on places of worship (and liturgical garb) is Biblical:
1 Kings 6 (Temple, as decreed by God)
23 For the inner sanctuary he made a pair of cherubim out of olive wood, each ten cubits high. … 28 He overlaid the cherubim with gold. 29 On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers. 30 He also covered the floors of both the inner and outer rooms of the temple with gold.
(This is also, incidentally, a good text to refer people to when they criticize the Church for her statuary.)
Exodus 28 (Priestly garb, as decreed by God)
6 Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen—the work of skilled hands. … 17 Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be carnelian, chrysolite and beryl; 18 the second row shall be turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald; 19 the third row shall be jacinth, agate and amethyst; 20 the fourth row shall be topaz, onyx and jasper.[b] Mount them in gold filigree settings.
The full thing can be read here:
And finally, money spent on big fancy Cathedrals is not wasted money. Imagine if, instead of building the Sistine Chapel, the Church had donated that money to the poor. It would have long ago been spent and forgotten. How much poorer we would all be for it! But instead, generations of people have stepped into that breathtaking space and been drawn into worship, or at least they’ve been inspired. Such spaces are of inestimable value and are a *far* better investment than spending millions on some megachurch gymnasium-style building that has about as much lasting inspirational value as a cardboard box.
The OT contains many examples of money being well-spent on places of worship, and the NT Church is just a fulfillment of the OT, after all, and a pointer to the eternal kingdom.