June 9, 2006

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Our Father, I need a 20: On faith and finance

Last night, I dreamt I was a finalist in “American Idol.”

I wasn’t deluded about my vocal talent (or lack thereof); I knew I’d have to skate by on cute costumes and easy songs. The promise of fame didn’t loom large, either.

But my dream contained one thrilling provision: Every finalist netted $50,000. I was ecstatic.

That reflects my generation’s financial situation: We dream of fortune, but our odds of a windfall seem as likely as a tone-deaf singer impressing Simon Cowell.

Young adults spend nearly a quarter of our income on debt payments, according to Generation Broke, co-written by Tamara Draut and Javier Silva. The average college senior graduated with $18,900 in student loans in 2002. And credit card debt for 25- to 34-year-olds has soared, the Federal Reserve noted, averaging $12,000 in 2001.

We’re supposed to offer everything to God, but I find it hard to bridge faith and finance. Faith stems from the heart, involves mystery and invokes peace. Finance stems from the head, involves deadlines and invokes panic.

It got me thinking about that verse in the Gospel of Matthew on worry. You know the one: Look at the birds, they’re doing just fine, and if God provides for them then he definitely has your back.

That always frustrated me. “Birds don’t have bills and mortgages,” I want to remind St. Matthew. They don’t need clothes, and when they travel, airfare is free.

But I checked out the verse anyway—and realized the entire sixth chapter is packed with insight on faith and finance.

This is where St. Matthew introduces the Our Father. Rereading that common prayer, I was struck by its order. First, we pray that God’s will be done. Then we ask for our daily bread.

The next section really challenged me: “Do not store up treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven. ... For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:19). Our impulse is to store up treasures on earth.

Last month, I fell in love with a pair of capris on sale at The Gap. Three days later, I returned and bought a second pair. A pair to wear, a pair to preserve on a hanger.

I gauge the status of my treasure (and heart) with a simple question: What occupies my roaming, random thought? That week, it was definitely those capris.

If you’re tempted to juggle a love for God and The Gap, St. Matthew makes it clear: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). (Translation: iPods and Prada.)

Pope John Paul II echoed that message in his 1987 encyclical on social concern. “Behind certain decisions, apparently inspired only by economics or politics, are real forms of idolatry: of money, ideology, class, technology,” he wrote.

That’s the root of my exorbitant credit card bills. I’m making way too many purchases for love of clothes.

St. Matthew understood young adults’ concern: Can I make ends meet? But that anxiety doesn’t build faith or enhance life. “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Mt 6:21).

Faith informs finances on a number of levels. It urges us to serve God, not goods. And it calls us to trust our Creator, who meets all our needs.

Here’s praying I can avoid the mall.

(Christina Capecchi is a Catholic Press Association award-winning writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.)


Local site Links: