During my first year of practicing law (1983), I got a call from a young man who had received a speeding ticket. He was employed by Domino’s Pizza as a deliveryman, and he wanted me to help him keep the ticket off his driving record. For purposes of discussion, I’m going to call him Jim.
When Jim got pulled over by the police officer, he was racing to deliver a pizza to a customer’s house. He was required by his employer to deliver the pizza within 30 minutes of the customer placing the order. If he was unable to get the pizza delivered in time, he was required to pay for it himself. If you’re over the age of 40, you may remember Domino’s famous guarantee: “Fresh hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or it’s free!”
I ended up handling several traffic tickets for Jim over a period of two years, all of which were received as a result of him speeding to get pizzas delivered to customers. He finally quit his job because he got tired of paying me large chunks of his income so that I could handle his tickets for him.
About six months after Jim quit his job, he received another speeding ticket. He was pulled over while he was driving home. Prior to getting pulled over, he didn’t realize he was speeding. He had no explanation as to why he was speeding. He was not running late, and he did not have a deadline as to when he needed to be home.
I explained to Jim that, for him, speeding had become a behavioral habit that was now automatic. His brain had become neurologically hardwired to issue whatever commands that were needed to ensure that he was always going faster than the speed limit.
Years later, after I had developed the habit of speeding up every time an intersection traffic light changed from green to yellow, I realized that my actions had become automatic. Every time I saw the light flash from green to yellow, my foot automatically pressed down on the gas pedal.
I came to my senses and realized how dangerous my behavior was after I represented a driver who had been severely injured in an intersection accident. It took me over a month of conscious effort to reprogram my behavior. For the first couple of weeks, unless I was consciously thinking about slowing down when the light turned yellow, I continued to automatically react by pressing down on the gas when the light changed to yellow. By the end of 30 days, I was finally able to get to the point where my right foot automatically hit the brake when my eyes saw the light turn from green to yellow.
Our brains are continually being programmed to instantly carry out behavior that is associated with our habits and beliefs. For example, the hardened inner-city gang member who believes he has a right to kill anyone who makes him look bad in front of his peers may automatically (without thinking) shoot and kill a rival gang member who calls him a coward in front of his friends. While you and I may react to a person who is making us look bad by verbally lashing out at him, or by walking away from the situation, we would never act on (or think about) taking the life of the person for committing such a minor offense.
Concerning the topic of money, devout Catholics have very specific beliefs about money that cause them to automatically behave in ways that hinder their ability to reach their full earning potential. Although they may say that they would like to be wealthy, at a subconscious level, they will never allow themselves to be “rich” because of their belief that the rich cannot get into heaven. This takes place without the person ever having defined what the word “rich” actually means to him or her.
Devout Catholics who are dedicated to their work and spend years at the same job or business may eventually begin to build wealth; however, rather than continue to “accumulate” wealth, they automatically back off and modify their behavior (without realizing it) in such a way that they sabotage the very behavior that has helped them increase their wealth. This self-sabotage may include a change in focus from tasks that generate the most income to lesser important tasks.
While I have met a handful of devout Catholics who, over a lifetime of work and frugal living, have become millionaires (net worth equal to or in excess of one million dollars), I’ve only met one devout Catholic who was a decamillionaire (net worth between 10 and 100 million dollars). That person was a very holy and dedicated priest who inherited his wealth from his father, invested it wisely, and left it to his parish when he died.
In my opinion, there are two primary reasons that more than 98 percent of devout Catholics are incapable of accumulating a net worth of $1 million or more: (1) deep-seated beliefs at the subconscious level that if they accumulate wealth they will not get into heaven, and (2) a burning desire to dedicate as much time as possible to develop their own faith, and to assist and develop the faith of others.
Is it a sin to accumulate money and wealth? The answer can be “yes” and it can also be “no,” depending on the situation.
The word “language” is defined as “the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other.” When it comes to money and wealth, the behavior of devout Catholics is governed by their Catholic upbringing, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings concerning the language of money, which includes their own understanding of what the words “rich” and “accumulate” really mean.
This becomes a problem when we (devout Catholics) have not adequately considered or defined how we are to view and define riches and the accumulation of wealth. In addition to harming our own ability to reach our full potential concerning the acquisition and saving of money, we also tend to judge others who we perceive as being rich and/or reckless with their own money (like the woman who was angry and critical of the people who were donating money to fund the building of the new sports complex for Notre Dame High School).
I’ll continue my discussion on this topic next week.