We celebrate the life of Saint Melania today, a Desert Mother with a heart specifically inclined toward giving away the incredible wealth she possessed. It can be difficult, in the current day, to think about our relationship with wealth, in large part because we have chosen to understand it as less concrete. Often, spiritual conversations about money begin from the posture of assuming we all have it and then defending why we should be able to keep some of it, thus acknowledging that our having it must need to be held onto in order for us to keep the ears of the church listening.
When we look at people like Saint Melania, we actually have the opportunity to let our lives be convicted by her witness, because her life makes theoretical values become concrete actions and known history. Saint Melania was known for being very, very wealthy, but then she chose to literally sell her possessions and spend her time with ascetics. She not only financially supported the ascetics with her own wealth, but she is known to have fed thousands of other people she encountered. She funded churches, monasteries, and other communities that offered care to those devoted to religious life and those who were simply hungry. Yes, she had extreme wealth, but she gave it away, leaving very little back for herself, even taking on slave’s clothing as an act of serving the ascetics.
Saint Melania reminds us that really acknowledging wealth and being courageous with our stewardship is not theoretical, and that in order for us to follow in the footsteps of saints before us and the commandments of Jesus Christ himself, we are required by God to live with less, to name our wealth, and to figure out what literally giving it away looks like for us. In order for us to love our neighbors as ourselves we must give away our wealth such that our possessions begin to be equitable with all those around us. Truly everyone. The concrete nature of this virtue is one of radical redistribution of wealth. In doing so, our stewardship is giving to someone we know is like us, equal to us, someone who bears the same wealth we do, because it is wealth shared.
I don’t write this out of a place of being good at this. I write this more from a heart that knows this is the right way, but who fails to do it still. I wonder if, for those of us who are trying to make what we were told is theoretical become concrete, we must begin by simply going to God in confession, naming the keeping of our wealth as sin. When we confess our sins, we do actually believe the forgiveness of God begs us to live differently, so surely the first steps to a change in heart around wealth must be naming our wealth as sin and asking God to forgive us with such power that we never wish to name the sin in confession again.
So today, if this feels hard for you, I will be confessing my sin of wealth to God, and you can join me in that action, an action I believe will help us step further into the concrete nature of redistributing wealth out of a heart of faithfulness to Jesus Christ.