In March 1990, I interviewed my grandmother, Cecilia LaHood (Grandma Ceil), for an article I was going to write and distribute at an upcoming 80th birthday party her children were planning for her. Grandma Ceil’s date of birth was April 15, 1910. During the interview, Grandma told me that her family lived in three different houses during the first six years of her life. None of those houses had electricity or hot water. I recorded the interview and later transcribed what Grandma said. Here’s what she told me about their fourth home:
It was at the house on McReynolds that we were first able to enjoy the luxury of an indoor bathroom: When we moved into the house on McReynolds, my papa converted a side porch into a bathroom in which he installed a bathtub and an indoor toilet. Up until that time, we had never had the luxury of a furnace, electricity, or hot water.
The houses on Washington Street, Adams Street, and Chicago Street did not have an indoor toilet but, instead, had an outhouse in the yard. When we wanted to take a bath, we would put water in a large pot and then place the pot on the stove to heat up the water. After the water was heated up, we would pour the warm water into a wash-tub that was placed on the kitchen floor next to the stove. We would then sit in the wash-tub near the stove, where it was warm, and wash ourselves.
We had milk delivered daily, and we also had to buy groceries on a daily basis. The only way that we had of keeping our milk and other perishables cold was by placing them in an “ice-box.” The ice-box that we had was made out of wood, and it had a section where a block of ice would be placed to keep the other area of the ice-box cold. When we needed ice, we would put a card in the window that would indicate the amount of ice that we needed. For example, we had a card that had written on it “25 pounds” and a card that had written on it “50 pounds.” When we would place one of the cards in the window, the delivery person would see the card and would bring in the block of ice that we had requested and place it in the ice-box.
My papa liked everything modern. When the Model T Ford first came out, my papa was one of the first men to buy one. I remember that when he first bought the Model T, he used to take turns driving it with his good friend Charles Anthony.
Now go back and reread the first sentence of what Grandma Ceil said. Does any one particular word jump out at you? Notice her use of the word “luxury” when she referred to the indoor bathroom her father built. Her family was finally able to “enjoy” the luxury of using an indoor toilet instead of having to use the outhouse in the backyard.
While the house on McReynolds had the luxury of a furnace, electricity, and hot water, Grandma’s family didn’t have any of the other modern-day conveniences we currently use, such as a refrigerator, freezer, microwave, toaster, coffeemaker, washer, dryer, air conditioner, television, computer, cell phone, or any of the other “necessities” that all of us now take for granted.
Sixty years prior to my Grandma Ceil’s birth, none of the houses had an ice-box, electricity, or running (cold) water.
For more than 1,850 years after the birth of Jesus Christ, not even kings and queens could imagine the luxuries that you and I have become accustomed to and consider necessities. Despite being the richest people on Earth, the kings and queens did not have the ability to buy the conveniences and luxuries you and I have at our disposal every day.
Since we live better than most of history’s richest people, when Jesus said it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God, was He saying that none of us will be able to get into heaven? If you answer “no” to this question, then my next question is, Why not? From a financial and comfort point of view, we live better than anyone who existed from the beginning of time until the mid-20th century.
So let’s return to one of my original questions concerning money, which I asked in last week’s article, “Do Catholics Have to Settle for Rags.” The question was: How do you define the word rich?
To repeat what I wrote last week: While the Catholic Church has provided us with specific guidance about what our beliefs should be concerning God, marriage, sex (both within and outside marriage), raising children, how we should treat others, and how we should behave and develop ourselves, there is no reservoir of knowledge or experience available concerning the acquisition and use of money. In other words, there is a glaring deficiency in guidance about what behavior is appropriate when it comes to money.
Why hasn’t the church provided us with specific guidance as to what it means to be rich? The reason is because everybody’s situation is different. One set of guidelines is insufficient to address the individual circumstances of each particular person. For example, the current and future financial needs of a 45-year-old married man with children at home are dramatically different than the needs of a 90-year-old man who lives in a nursing home. The current and future financial needs of a couple with two young children are dramatically different than the current and future needs of a couple with six young children.
In a similar way, although the Catholic Church prohibits the use of contraception for a married couple, the church does not dictate how many children a Catholic couple is required to have. Contrary to popular belief, the church does not require a married woman to have a new baby every year or two. Catholic couples are allowed to practice natural family planning in order to space the births of their children and, in some situations, completely avoid a future pregnancy if there are legitimate medical, emotional, mental, or financial reasons to do so.
As devout Catholics, we must trust that the Holy Spirit will lead us in our decisions concerning money and how many children we should have. Although other people (including our Catholic family members and friends) may have opinions about whether we have too much money or too few children, they are in no position to determine whether or not we are doing God’s will.
Next week I’m going to write about the “money language” of devout Catholics.