After the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised to rebuild it. But many people began complaining, saying the money could better be spent on the poor. However, this objection is not genuine. In America, we spend several times as much money every year on Halloween candy. We spend more each month on Netflix subscriptions.
On the third day of Holy Week, we remember the sinful woman who anointed Christ's feet with precious oil. We also remember Judas's betrayal of Christ.
When the sinful woman came and anointed Christ's feet, Judas was angered and complained that she was wrong to waste such expensive oil, since it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. However, as the Gospel notes, Judas said that, not because he really cared for the poor but rather because he was a thief and used to steal money from the poor box for himself.
Hearing this story, we might at first be surprised by Judas's hypocrisy. How could he complain about money being wasted, how could he stand up for the poor, when really, he had no intention of using any money that came in to help the poor?
It's very possible, however, that Judas might not have been aware of his own hypocrisy. It's possible that he felt genuinely indignant when he was speaking up on behalf of the poor even though in his heart he didn't really care about them. How do we know that? Because we do the same thing.
Last week, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris burned almost to the ground. Within days, hundreds of millions of dollars had been raised to help pay for the reconstruction. As soon as the money was raised, other people began to complain, saying that the money could be better spent on the poor. They pointed out, rightly, that the reason there is poverty and starvation in the world isn't because we don't have enough to go around. We have enough food to feed everyone. We have enough money to pay for it. It's because we don't use our resources wisely.
However, while it is right to be concerned for the poor, this objection is not genuine. While it's true that rebuilding the cathedral will be expensive, in America, we spent several times as much money every year on Halloween candy. We spend more each month on Netflix subscriptions.
When we use our money for our own entertainment, when we waste money carelessly, we never complain or think about the poor. We only complain about “waste” when the money is used in the service of God, when it is used to beautify His house.
If we're honest with ourselves, as much as we like to think that we care about the poor, we don't actually enjoy giving to the poor either. Just like we feel the pinch when we give to the Church, we usually feel that same pinch, that same reluctance, when we are called on to give our money and our time to help those in need. The only time we spend our time and money freely, without caring, is when we spend it on ourselves.
There is a difference, though, between spending money on the beauty of God's house and spending money on our own entertainment. Spending money on our own entertainment has never inspired anyone to give up all that they have and give it to the poor. Divine beauty has and does. The early Christians quickly began to develop beautiful vestments and liturgical art. They quickly began to put money into beautiful chalices for the Eucharist. But those same early Christians also began to throw themselves into caring for those in need. They cared for widows who had no family. They adopted orphans who were abandoned under the Roman custom of “exposure.” They gave generously to care for the poor.
They did all of that because the two things, worship and charity, are closely connected. St. John Chrysostom tells us that there are two altars that God has given us to worship Him – the altar in Church where we go to receive Him as He comes to us in the Eucharist and the altar of the poor, where we worship Him by serving Him and by giving generously.
It is only when we learn to love God that we can truly love our neighbor and if we don't love our neighbor, we cannot claim to love God. Time and money spent on our own entertainment only teaches us to think about ourselves. Time spent in prayer, in worship, and in service all teach us to be forgetful of ourselves and to remember the God who loved us so much that He gave Himself for us and who then told us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love each other as I have loved you.”