By a Leonie’s Longing Contributor.
Most of my life I have had a certain disdain for wealth and luxury. I would catch myself looking down on those with big houses, nice cars and name brand clothes. I grew up poor the majority of my childhood and I was proud of where I came from and the challenges I had to overcome. When I converted to Catholicism and eventually entered the religious life, the value placed on poverty and shunning luxury fueled my belief that pursuing wealth was diametrically opposed to a holy life. After leaving religious life, I worked in jobs that I was underpaid and overqualified for. Pursuing a secular career that paid well with opportunities for upward mobility seemed too worldly a pursuit and an obstacle to my vocation. Alongside me, I had friends, who, like myself, graduated from expensive Catholic colleges with massive student loan debt, follow a similar path. It seemed working for the Church in some capacity was the goal, regardless of the low pay, and secular well-paying careers were avoided. As the years went by, I started to question these choices. Why do devout Catholics (particularly women) pursue low paying jobs they are overqualified for? What was influencing this and is it healthy? Is this what God wants?
In the Catholic tradition, we are taught the virtues of poverty and detachment from earthly goods. This especially becomes prominent in religious life in the Vow of Poverty. As we detach from earthly things, we are taught that this allows us to attach to God and “store up treasures in heaven”. The benefits of wealth, such as luxury, convenience, and comfort, are looked down upon and seen as obstacles to our walk with Christ. The concept of the Prosperity Gospel that we hear of from some of our Protestant brothers and sisters is close to the exact opposite of how we view our faith in relationship to money. In fact, our tradition holds that suffering (including financial hardships) are opportunities to rely on the Providence of God and sometimes are directly given to us to grow on our paths to becoming saints. And this skepticism of wealth and success, especially if we have come from religious life, can guide our decisions in career paths, financial choices, and lifestyle.
Yet, with all this being said, the million dollar question is (no pun intended), have we swung the pendulum a little too far? Are we taking something neutral or even good, and shaming it? To be clear, I am not saying working a fulfilling but low paying job is wrong. Or that the teaching on detachment is erroneous. This is more a challenge to evaluate our views on wealth and career success. Negotiating pay, investing to build wealth for the future, purchasing a home (yes, even as a single man or woman), pursuing a promotion or career change for better pay – these are not bad things. And so, I challenge anyone reading this, if you find yourself in a job that you are overqualified, underpaid, and living paycheck to paycheck, I encourage you to reflect on your approach to your career, to success, and to wealth. Do you find distorted thinking, shame, guilt, or scrupulosity at its foundation? If you can move up in your job, why aren’t you? If you can get better pay, why not?
If this message strikes a chord with you, I recommend researching professional development learning opportunities to develop and upgrade your skills, learning from inspirational figures such as Dave Ramsey, Tony Robbins and Matthew Kelly, and finding a career counselor to address what’s been holding you back (National Career Development Association is a good place to start). LinkedIn is also a fantastic resource for networking, workshops and keeping up to date on trends in the workforce. Remember that as lay Catholics, we are not barred from success, nor are we forbidden to become wealthy and enjoy our success. Poverty or wealth does not determine attachment to goods – our love, generosity, and pursuit of God determines this. It is up to you how you decide to live that out.