Karen House Catholic Worker





About Karen House

About the Catholic


The Roundtable

Get Involved




Karen House



The Catholic Worker on Economics

(Please scroll down for "Trying to Serve God and Money is a Losing Bet")


Main Menu:

From Karen House Catholic Worker:

-  Building a New Society: Spring 2008 RoundTable

- The Global Economy: Fall 2001 RoundTable


From the Los Angeles Catholic Worker:

- Free Market Capitalism: Robbing the Poor  - Jeff Deitrich

- The Bailout: Socialism For Wall Street - Interview with Mark Engler


From the Houston Catholic Worker:

- Faith and the Financial Crisis  - Jim Consedine

- It's All About Usury - John Médaille







Karen House:

1840 Hogan St.

St. Louis, MO  63106



From the Des Moines Catholic Worker:

- Trying to Serve God and Money is a Losing Bet - Frank Cordaro

- Heterosexism as a Metaphor for Capitalism and Other Sins - Mona Shaw


From the Catholic Worker Founders:

- On Economics: Easy Essays- Peter Maurin

- On Interest and Money Lending- Dorothy Day








More on Distributism (economic system promoted by the Catholic Worker):

- JustPeace.org

- "Roots of the Catholic Worker Movement: Distributism: Ownershipof the Means of Production and Alternative to the Brutal Global Market" - Mark and Louise Zwick






Trying to Serve God and Money is a Losing Bet

- Frank Cordaro

Please visit the Des Moines Catholic Worker website to download their newsletter Via Pacis, and this article.


"I don't believe you can

strive to be rich

in the United States

and follow the Gospel at the

same time,” is one of the

things I am apt to say when

giving a talk on a college or

university campus.


This almost always

causes otherwise timid and

polite students to voice

strong disagreement with

my assertion. And, why

wouldn’t they? Most students

are motivated to go to

college because they believe

they will get a better

job with a college degree

than without one.

There are

very few, if any, truly Liberal

Arts academic institutions

left in this country. The

idea of learning for learning's

sake—the theoretical

basis of a liberal arts education—

has long been

overtaken on college campuses

by ever-growing departments

of business and

professional degrees. An

academic major is chosen

according to its income potential

as much, if not more

than, according to the student's

interest in that particular

area of study.


My "you can’t get rich

and follow Jesus" statement

is even more strongly resisted

on Catholic college

and university campuses.

These students are painfully

aware that they are

paying extra money to get a

Catholic education, and

most go into big debt for

this choice. The extra investment

should, at least,

include the moral backing

of their Faith and Jesus for

selecting a Catholic education.


Students often dispute

my statement by pointing to

doctors and lawyers, of

whom they know or have

heard, who devote months

of service out of every year

to the poor. Or, they speak

of the philanthropic work of

“well-to-do” people, who

generously give of their

time, talents and riches to

help the needy. Bill Gates is

one that is often mentioned.


Each and every time I

hear them, I concede to

their examples. Yes, there

are individual rich people

who do indeed make room

in their lives to serve and

give to the poor. But, then I

quickly follow-up by noting

that the rareness of these

examples only proves the

point that Jesus makes. On

rare occasions, a camel

can go through an eye of a

needle, but the odds are

overwhelmingly against it.


This is brought home to the

students when we compare

those few rich and well-todo

people, who do live to

serve the poor, with the

vast majority of the rich and

wealthy in the U.S. In the

latter bunch, the call to

serve the poor hardly

crosses their consciousness.


It is at this point I tell

the students that the social

justice teachings of the

Catholic Church include a

principle that commands a

“preferential option for the

poor,” and that this principle

is not an elective component

of living our Faith. The

Church’s “preferential option

for the poor” describes

the constituent aspect required

to describe oneself

as being a follower of Jesus.

(Matt 25: 31-46)


It is a surprising thing to

me that most Christians in

the United States don’t realize

that nowhere in the New

Testament are money and

material wealth seen as

positive or good. Whenever

money and/or material

wealth are mentioned, they

are attached to “red flags”

and other warnings of grave

danger. When people do

have money and material

wealth, they are counseled

to give it away to the poor.

(Mark 10:17-22) The possession

of money and material

wealth are never presented

as a neutral moral

state, but as threats to

moral integrity.


I don’t recall ever hearing

a sermon on the Tenth

Commandment, “You shall

not covet your neighbor’s

property.” (Exodus 20:17)

This is not surprising given

that in our economic system

(which we call

ism) that darker, lower trait

of human nature called

greed is elevated to the

central motivating principle

for success.


I recall my encounter

with James T. (JT), a guy I

met in a federal holding

facility in southern Maryland

while awaiting trial for our

1998 Gods of Metal Plowshares

witness. JT was a

professional gambler who

only bet on NFL games. He

was locked up pending trial

for some drug charges. JT

became part of our daily

bible study and showed a

sincere desire to turn his

life around, make amends,

do right and to follow Jesus.


When we broached the

issue of money and material

wealth in the bible

study, I shared with the

group my admonition that I

don’t believe you can strive

to be rich in the U.S. and

follow the Gospel at the

same time. JT could not

disagree with me more.

The singular thing JT

wanted to do most when he

was released from jail

(besides turning his life

around, making his

amends, doing right and

following Jesus) was make

as much money as he

could. He knew good times

in the past, and how, when

flushed with lots of money,

he was able to help his

family and friends; although

he readily admitted, he did

not help them as much as

he could or should have.


But, he “just knew that

when he got out this time, it

would be different.

I reminded JT what he

had taught me about gambling.

JT told me that he

only bet on NFL games

because he had a sure-fired

winning system. JT

explained to me that if you

do not have a system in

which the odds to win are in

your favor; a gambler, no

matter what his intentions

or desires, will always be a

chump, who will ultimately

be the loser every time. I

told JT that it is the same

way when being a follower

of Jesus. The smart gambler

who wants to be a follower

of Jesus will trust the

sure-fire system presented

in the New Testament.


They will play the system

that puts the odds in their

favor. I told JT don’t be a

Gospel chump when it

comes to seeking and acquiring

money and material


“Sure,” I told JT, “you

might beat the odds and be

that rare camel that

squeezes yourself through

the eye of the needle, but

why risk it? The smart follower

of Jesus will stick to

his advice and use a system

that puts the odds in

one’s favor and neither

seeks nor acquires money

or material wealth.”


Tragically, today’s

Church does teach in the

abstract that money and

material wealth are neutral,

neither good nor bad, and

that its moral status depends

on the spirit in which

it is embraced. This way of

thinking is also how the

Church teaches that war in

the abstract can be justified

if fought by the principles of

the Just War Tradition. The

problem is, between the

non-existent world of the

Church’s abstract dogmatic

statements and teachings

and the bloody realities of

modern history, the followers

of Jesus have come to

justify the worst abuses in

the social, economic and

political realms, ignoring

their direct biblical responsibilities

to the poor, neither

acting nor living justly with

their fellow human beings.


Nowhere is this modern

disconnect between the

professed faith and the

practiced faith more evident

than with modern warfare.

No where is it more unbalanced

than with the

Church’s positions on human

sexuality. As I have

often said, “Any Church that

has more moral clarity on

the use of condoms than it

does on thermo-nuclear

weapons is seriously unbalanced.”

Nowhere has this

fuzzy thinking caused more

pain and injustice to the

poor than in our acceptance

of U.S. capitalism.


Dorothy Day said it best

in her article “A Personalist

Economics” published in

the September, 1956, issue

of New York City’s Catholic

Worker. “We need to

change the system. We

need to overthrow, not the

government, as the authorities

are always accusing

the Communist ‘of conspiring

to teach to do,’ but this

rotten decadent, putrid,

industrial capitalist system

which breeds such suffering

in the whited sepulcher of

New York….”


Dorothy Day could sure

turn a phrase and be plain-speaking

when she needed

to be.


What is needed from

U.S. Christians is more humility

and less certainty in

what we profess to believe

and more proactive witnessing

of the charity and

justice that our many

Church statements and

pronouncements announce

but do not fulfill.