“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” ― G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World.
One of the great dilemmas of parenting is knowing how to challenge a child with a goal without overwhelming him with the difficulties of the task. It seems this same difficulty persists in all calls to the holy and moral life. We’ll call it the problem for prophets.
The problem is best exemplified by the chasm that exists between a great moral reformer and the mass of people that are acting immorally. For the reformer, the problem is huge exactly because the MASS of people continue in their immorality. For the individual mired in sin, the problem is gigantic because of the distance between where he is on the moral scale and where he is being called to be by the reformer.
Of course, perceived this way, there really is no solution. But this is a false construct. Conversion is not about a monumental shift from one way of being to another (although that is possible, even laudable), but rather a simple turn from one’s current way of life with a commitment to progress in the other direction.
A friend of mine has a saying that encapsulates this concept very well. He says, “Inch by inch it’s a cinch.” Small changes consistently made will accomplish much more than most attempts at huge leaps.
So what does this have to do with the world of finance? Well, if you consider the fact that the average American is a somewhat well-to-do, comfortable, and materially-oriented person who has spent the better part of his life working, earning, buying, and saving for his family. And then, if you propose to him the evangelical perfection of poverty, a great disconnect ensues. A sort of spiritual schizophrenia develops wherein he at once feels proud of supporting his family and despairing at being a poor follower of Christ. Unfortunately, no amount of distinguishing between the roles of the lay and clerical state will suffice nor explaining that his actions are only sinful IF the love of money has surpassed his love of God. The damage is done and the person feels rotten.
What has happened to this person is that a false construct of the Christian ideal has formed in his mind and the real result of his lifetime of actions seems incompatible with it. He is left with that “gigantic leap” perception of either giving everything up now or being satisfied (or dissatisfied) as a practical materialist forever.
The answer, I believe, lies in the right understanding of conversion. We ought not expect the average, material-oriented American to instantaneously transition from where he is to:
Again, this is not to say that it can’t be done. We have saintly examples of such monumental shifts. But it is to say that such heroic actions are not the only way. Rather, the conversion, the turning, could start with simply rejecting the “love of money” and building from there.
One good means of accomplishing this is initiating a regular and sacrificial giving to support the Church…and then praying that God will guide you to greater spiritual perfection. In short, make a simple commitment to holiness and the rest will come “inch by inch.”