BY: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong


1. “The Gospel of Wealth”. The Scottish-American, Andrew Carnegie, needs no introduction because of his legacy of radical philanthropy. Born in Scotland as a poor boy, he made excellent use of his family’s immigration to the United States. Through hard work, on the Pennsylvania Railroad, starting out as a telegraph operator, he rose from rags to riches, earning what would be billions of dollars today, from his steel empire. Nothing unusual so far. Here is the most interesting bit that makes his story part of a sermon. Andrew Carnegie worked very hard to distribute all his wealth in his lifetime, for maximum benefit to the community. He built and opened over 3,000 libraries in the U.S. and 250 libraries in the U.K., for instance. He used the last tranche of his money to buy a summer home in Massachusetts, where he died in 1919 almost penniless. In his famous essay of June 1889, titled “The Gospel of Wealth”, Carnegie preached that ostentatious living was wrong and that surplus wealth should be distributed in one’s lifetime. “The Gospel of Wealth” includes one of Carnegie’s most famous quotes, “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” His message continues to resonate with and inspire philanthropists around the world. But Carnegie’s message was “NOT” his message. In the concluding paragraph of his essay, Andrew Carnegie wrote: “The ‘Gospel of Wealth’ but echoes Christ’s words.” Wow. Please read/reread this Magna Carta of philanthropy for yourself and see how he ends with the words, “Gates of Paradise”. Let us then get to the words of Christ in today’s Gospel reading (Lk 12:13-21) where our Lord tells us the parable of the rich fool.

2. Christ’s Words. Loud and clear someone in the crowd said: “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Obviously, there was a quarrel over surplus wealth left behind by a rich person to his or her children. Loud and clear our Lord responded to him and to the crowd: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” (Lk 12:15) And the parable we listened to was to illustrate this point. It is as though St Francis of Assisi, St Vincent de Paul, St Elizabeth Ann Seton, St Katharine Drexel and countless other saints who turned their wealth to the service of the poor, were in that crowd. It is as through Andrew Carnegie was in that crowd.

3. You and I. What is certain is that you and I are now in that crowd, hearing it anew and also with wonderful examples to inspire us. St Paul echoes the words of Christ in today’s 2nd reading (Col 3:1-5, 9-11) “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above”. “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” There is a reason impurity, greed and idolatry are in the same sentence. It is the same reason that chastity according to one’s state in life, generosity and devotion to God are often in the same person. The Patron Saint of Philanthropy and Racial Justice, St Katharine Drexel, for example, typifies this coming together of virtues. Like the case in today’s Gospel reading, Katharine’s father, Francis Drexel, a Philadelphia banker left his children $15 million to inherit. Katharine could have quarreled over the inheritance like the man in today’s Gospel reading. Rather, Katherine rejected marriage proposals, became a nun and used the money to help the poor. Even newspaper headlines screamed: “Miss Drexel Enters a Catholic Convent—Gives Up Seven Million Dollars”. During her lifetime, with those millions, she opened and directly supported 62 schools and over 100 missions in the United States, for Native Americans and African-Americans. Her crowning service of love was the establishment in 1925 of Xavier University of Louisiana, the first predominantly African-American Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States. Sisters and brothers, you and I may not have all the millions to give up, but we can at least ensure that wealth is not over-valued to the detriment of relationships, with God and fellow human beings. Today’s 1st reading (Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23) is a strong warning against ascribing more value to a thing than it actually has. As the introduction to the book of Ecclesiastes, it wakes us up by declaring: Vanity of vanities… All things are vanity! The conclusion of this biblical book makes the interpretation easy. Ecc. 12:13-14: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Loving God and serving God in our neighbor are among the reasons we were created. Doing these, brings meaning and gives joy and fulfillment even in this life.


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