Friday, August 21, 2009

Catholic Teaching on Superfluous Wealth

In recent months we have a number of influential people donating their assets to the public. The President has given a good example to the citizens in his donation to a scholarship fund for the needy. He once said: “My small fortune does not belong to me alone. The achievement was made possible thanks to the devotion of workers and their families as well as society. What I have so far achieved should be returned to society.”

One of our diocesan priests had an article on the Gyeonju Choi family that has been wealthy for over 300 years. He mentioned that it is usually difficult for a family to remain rich after 3 generations but they have remained wealthy for 12 generations. One of the reasons is their 6 family principles they have followed:

1) Do not be obessed with money

2. Never purchase land from a farmer during a year with a bad harvest.

3) Don't be greedy with government positions.

4) Treat guests as if they are members of your family.

5) Never let a neighbor starve.

6) Have your daughter in law stay away from fine silk clothes for 3 years after marriage so she learns the spirit of thrift.

The founder of the dynasty died in the war with the Japanese in 1592. His son blocked up a large stream and recovered much land which he divided among tenant farmers dividing the yield 50/50. The family never had an overseer but dealt with the farmers directly and listened to their grievances. At the end of the Choson dynasty, during the uprising against the upper classes, the Choi family had no problems since their way of living was well known to many.

In recent times the family used a great deal of their money to work for independence from the Japanese. The family helped to build two universities and helped many with their wealth.

The author of this article mentions there are not many rich respected in the Korea of today. The Choi family lived the "Noblesse Oblige" way of life of those blessed with this world's goods. Those who have attained many material goods can thank the society they live in, and should return a part of that to the society.

The Catholic teaching on social issues is not well known to our Catholics let alone those who are not. But the Church has taught that superfluous wealth is not ours to use as we want but belongs to society.
He who has the goods of this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him?" Everyone knows that the Fathers of the Church laid down the duty of the rich toward the poor in no uncertain terms. As St. Ambrose put it: "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich." These words indicate that the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional.
On the Development of Peoples, #23 Encyclical of Pope Paul VI.

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