At my home parish, a beautiful mural behind the altar depicts a couple dozen saints, St. Clare of Assisi among them. This founder of the Poor Clares once said of her community, “They say that we are too poor, but can a heart which possesses the infinite God be truly called poor?” She challenges us to have a better relationship to both God and money. But do we need to be poor to be in right relationship with God, to be merciful as God is merciful?
After my parents divorced and my father filed for bankruptcy, my mother had to provide for us. Things were tough. When my college loans came due, money was tight. I certainly wasn’t poor, but for the record, my overdrawn bank account did not lead to a merciful heart.
Still, financial debt, sin, and God’s mercy are often linked in the New Testament. Money is a recurring theme because we are so often tempted to give more attention to money than to God. But it does not then follow that being poor makes it easier to forgive. The poor can also hold grudges.
Putting anything ahead of God makes it harder to forgive others, whether it be financial debt or personal grievances. If I recognize that everything belongs to God—my possessions, my ego, my family, the earth—I begin to see things as I believe St. Clare did, with a heart that possesses the infinite God. When God comes first, we will find it easier to detach from both material possessions and from sin. Nurturing a generous heart makes it easier to forgive and, in turn, to be forgiven.