THE PROVIDENTIAL UTILITY OF RICHES. TRIALS OF RICHES AND MISERY
7. If riches were meant to constitute a total obstacle to salvation for all who possess them, as might be inferred from certain words supposedly uttered by Jesus when they are interpreted in a literal fashion instead of in their spiritual meaning, then God, who conceded them would have placed an instrument of ruination in the hands of certain people against which they could not appeal. But this idea is quite repugnant to all reason. However, it is beyond doubt that from the destruction it causes, the temptations it provokes and the fascination it holds, we may deduce that riches constitute a very dangerous trial, even more dangerous than that of misery. It is the greatest provoker of pride, selfishness and sensuality. It is the strongest tie which holds Man to Earth and distracts him from thoughts of Heaven. On many occasions it produces such a state of dizziness that those who go from misery to wealth completely forget their first condition, together with those who had shared this state with them, even those who had helped them, turning them into insensitive, selfish and futile people. Nevertheless, from the fact that riches make the journey difficult, it does not follow that it becomes impossible or that it cannot become a means of salvation for those who know how to utilize it, just as certain poisons may restitute health when employed in the correct quantities and used with discernment.
When Jesus said to the young man, who inquired how he could obtain eternal life, that he should dispose of all his worldly goods and follow Him, it did not mean that Jesus was establishing an absolute principle, that everyone should get rid of everything they possess, nor that this is the only price to be paid for salvation. It was meant to show that attachment to worldly goods was an obstacle to salvation. The young man in this case had judged himself to be released from further struggle because he had observed certain commandments, and therefore he refused the idea of abandoning all the worldly goods he possessed. His desire to obtain eternal life did not run to the extreme of acquiring it through this sacrifice.
What Jesus proposed to him was a decisive test destined to uncover the depths of his thoughts. Beyond doubt he could be a perfectly honest man in the eyes of the world, never causing harm to anyone, never cursing his neighbours, never being vain, futile or prideful, and always honouring his mother and father. But still he did not possess true charity, because his virtues did not go as far as abnegation. This is what Jesus wished to demonstrate by applying the principle: Without charity there is no salvation.
In the strict acceptance of these words, the consequence would be the abolition of riches due to their being detrimental to future happiness and the cause of a great deal of the evil on Earth; for the rest, it would be the condemnation of all work, as being the means of gain. This would be an absurd consequence which would only convey mankind back to a primitive existence which, for that very reason, would be in complete contradiction to the law of progress, which is one of God's laws.
If riches be the cause of much evil, if they aggravate so many evil passions, if they really provoke so many crimes, it is not the riches themselves that we should blame but mankind who misuses them, as he does all of God's gifts. It is through ill usage that humanity constantly turns what could be most useful into something pernicious. This is a consequence of the inferior state of earthly life. If only wrongdoing and mischief could be produced by riches, then God would not have placed them upon Earth. It is up to Man to make them produce good, and even if they are not a direct element of moral progress, then beyond doubt they are a powerful element in intellectual progress.
Indeed, Man has the mission of working for the material betterment of this planet. It is up to him to reclaim it, to make it salubrious and to make arrangements so that one day the planet may receive all the population that its area can and should contain. Therefore, so as to be able to feed this larger population, it will become imperative to increase production. If the production of one country is insufficient, then it will be brought in from outside. This is why the relationships between nations constitute a vital necessity. In order to make this easier, it behoves that all the material obstacles which separate these countries be destroyed, so that communication be made rapid. For this work, which has required centuries to complete, it was essential to extract materials from the entrails of the Earth, which made Man look to science for the means of executing these tasks with more speed and safety. But in order to do this he needed resources; this necessity caused him to create riches, just as it caused the creation of science. All these activities imposed the need to amplify and develop intelligence, which man has used primarily for the satisfaction of material necessities. Nevertheless, it is this same intelligence which will later help humanity to understand all the great moral truths. Seeing that riches are the primary means of executing these tasks, there would be no more great works without them, no activity, no stimulation nor research. It is with good reason then that riches should be considered as an element of progress.