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Betsy Kneepkens: Helping those who have too little — and those who have too much

It is Christmastime again, and some of the most humanitarian works for the poor and marginalized occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Any time of the year is an excellent time to help those in need, and if Christmas is when giving works best for some people, I say “go for it.”

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I love to hear stories of what churches have done for struggling individuals and families. My parish has had a giving tree for as long as I can remember. Catholic schoolchildren and religious education classes have made cards for those living at dependent care facilities and hospitals, sung at various locations, collected clothing items and food, and participated in Operation Christmas Child. I know of at least one parish that is doing a program called “The Best Christmas Ever,” where a community comes together to surprise a family that has fallen on tough times. It is a beautiful display of unity, generosity, and love.

Christmas has always been a big deal in our house. For larger families, it is the time of year that we come together, celebrate the birth of Christ, and receive gifts, mostly of needs but wants too. As our children were growing older, we wanted to use this time of year to teach our children to be givers to those in need.

For several years, our family would be involved in service in our community. As our children have moved away from home, we started a Christmas tradition where we would gather a list of local organizations that were doing the work of Christ, in line with church teachings, and then research their purpose and how they serve. On Christmas Day, we present the organization’s mission to our kids, and they vote on which organization would be granted a family financial gift. I think many lessons are taught through this activity, and this fun exercise has our adult children thinking about others and not so much about themselves anymore.

I believe serving and supporting our disadvantaged brothers and sisters is always an obligation of being a follower of Christ. I am sure it doesn’t surprise many that we live in an increasingly divided country — in many ways, but most apparently in social and economic matters. Our church must be the first and foremost leader in lessening the suffering of those in need. I think most of us get that.

Another segment of the population is suffering greatly, but seeking support and healing for them appears politically incorrect. The group I am referring to is those who have too much. We live in a society where many live with excess. We don’t talk about the consequence of their wealth and how, for some, the condition torments. More often than not, as individuals acquire more, they slowly turn themselves away from Christ. The movement toward riches and away from dependency on God opens the door for the evil one to reign unknowingly. The devil seeks out their weakened soul and, if agreeable, entices them to turn their backs on Christ. The Gospels reference this suffering more than a dozen times, and Christ seeks to heal them, pointing the “financially” afflicted back toward our heavenly Father.

Although you can have material needs overly met, and that might feel good, things can’t quench the essential thirst of your heart. You have just to read the newspaper, listen to the radio, or scan social media each day to realize the suffering of the rich and famous. Unspeakable tragedy happens over and over again, almost like we now expect it and accept it.

Not that I have had many encounters with highly affluent individuals, but some that I have known have lived fractured lives. Sadly they have experienced divorce or infidelity, or physical, psychological, and emotional abuse. Ultimately, the results of their wealth end up starving the real pleasure they seek. If they have children, their offspring tend to mirror and suffer even worse than their parents.

Worse yet, they are quickly taken advantage of, and if they are strong enough not to have people use them, they live in a constant state of distrust. Rich and famous people’s failures are exploited and publicly criticized, and mistakes become unforgivable gossip and news. You can never be sure if relationships exist because of what you have not really who you are. We all worry about safety, but wealthy and well-known people are targeted by the cruel, envious, and villainous, simply because they have more. So often, these individuals get to the point where enough is not enough, and greed becomes the driving force. Furthermore, people think ill of wealthy people for no other reason than they have more — what a horrible daily battle.

The Gospel neither encourages nor condemns wealth. Christ wants us to love and serve the Lord. I believe wealth and fame were intended for some to be a force of good in the world. For the portion of people who have managed material success, they have been a gift to so many others. They inspire others to live extraordinary lives when they don’t allow their wealth to define them and reject the devil’s enticements.

Some of the wealthiest individuals in our country pledge to give 90% of their wealth away before they die to those less fortunate. When their fortune is a gift given, without expecting anything in return, their actions seek the will of the Father. When they use the brilliance that created their wealth to teach others or improve the world, they live out their God-given purpose. As Christ taught, all disorders ought to be reordered, and as his disciples, we don’t get to choose which disorders need healing. We have to work on all of it.

As Christians, we are called to help those whose basic needs aren’t met. However, we need to keep in mind that poverty exists spiritually as well. Christ’s birth was about saving everyone. This Christmas, I hope we can have a heart and send up a prayer for those who suffer from being too fortunate so they can detach themselves from things, manage the blessings they received, and regift what they have been given to make for a better world.

May this Christmas be a time where we pray for all those that suffer, the people who have little and those that have too much. Merry Christmas to all!

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.