Health and Finances

Wednesday, June 25, 2003



Health and finances may seem to some people to be odd topics to place within the context of progressive Roman Catholic theological essays. Yet, I once had a teacher during my seminary days who said that the three areas a minister will need to know the most about to be effective are sex, health, and finances.

The reason we need to reflect on these areas is that these are the issues that most people worry about the most. Spirituality is not an escape from reality, but should help us find meaning and direction in the areas that cause us the gravest concerns.

There are plenty of essays here about topics such as the solitary sin, homosexuality, married priesthood, divorce, women's ordination and other issues of chastity and gender roles. We have sexuality covered, and I may even write a post on sex, drugs and rock and roll to entice people to read more. At any rate, we have sex covered.

So I thought I would write a brief essay on health and finances. At the same time, I am no expert in these fields, so I am writing merely what seems to uncommon common sense as it relates to what I know about spirituality. These are sort of random reflections, and I do not claim to have come to final and definitive opinions of my own.


The Bible and Christian tradition actually say very little about health, per se. There is some argument that the dietary laws of Judaism originated due to concerns about health, but I find these arguments weak.

For example, the argument runs that the Hebrews did not eat pigs because of a fear of trichonosis. However, this does not explain some of the dietary laws such as not mixing meat and dairy products, avoiding blood, prohibitions against eating shell-fish, rodents (including rabbit) and eating wild game (especially fowl).

The more likely explanation for these dietary codes is rooted in ancient notions of nature and a disdain for pagan practices. The Hebrew people would not eat shell-fish because a fish that walked was unnatural. Likewise, animals with hooves that did not chew from the cud were outside of the norm (compare a pig to a sheep, goat, or cattle). Wild birds often were birds that would not fly (such as the ostrich), or that slept in the day (the owl). The prohibitions against blood or mixing meat and dairy were a rejection of pagan practices of boiling a kid goat in its mother's milk or drinking blood as part of a religious ritual.

In the New Testament, the authors seem to reject some of the traditional Jewish kosher laws, particularly for Gentile converts. In Mark 7:15, Christ is portrayed as saying: Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. and verse 19 goes on to state that Christ declared all foods clean. Acts 15:20 indicates that the Council of Jerusalem still held that Gentiles were to refrain from eating strangled animals or eating blood. Yet, Saint Paul adamantly opposed the imposition of dietary regulations on Gentile converts:

One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him. (Romans 14:2-3)

Saint Paul goes on in the same letter to spell out explicitly that what we eat is not determinative of salvation:

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; still, it is unclean for someone who thinks it unclean. If your brother is being hurt by what you eat, your conduct is no longer in accord with love. Do not because of your food destroy him for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be reviled. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:14-17)

So, the Bible's dietary codes were not based on health concerns, and the New Testament seems to imply that those who are excessively concerned about proper foods are "weak" in faith, and "scrupulous" (perhaps sinfully scrupulous).

In our health conscience culture, it may be important to bear in mind that the Gospel is not primarily about physical health.

Yet, the Gospel is about being charitable to others, and watching out for each other and wanting the best for those around us. The Letter of James tells us the following:

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and well fed," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? (James 2:16-17)

We cannot give what we do not have. Due concern for our own health is the condition for the possibility for acting charitable with others. In this sense, Christians should pay attention to health!

There are several habits that health care professionals would recommend for preventing general sickness and even reversing some ailments. Here is a list off the top of my head:

1. Sleep eight hours per night (nine hours if under the age of eighteen). The Bible and tradition say nothing about this. Until the invention of the light-bulb, people most likely typically slept from soon after sunset until just before the break of dawn. I have heard it said that while we can function on four hours of sleep, stress increases, the aging process is accelerated and the immune system is weakened if we do not routinely aim for eight hours of sleep. Believe it or not, studies are indicating that proper sleep may be the most important factor in maintaining good health! Do not forget to pray as you lay down to sleep and as you rise in the morning.

2. Do not smoke, use recreational drugs, or consume alcohol excessively. Jesus drank wine, and one or two glasses per day can be good for you. Christians need not be "prudes" in trying to live a healthy spiritual life. God created pleasure in the world for our benefit. Yet, we can abuse pleasures through excess. The Bible condemns drunkenness, because altered mental states can lead to sin and excess can damage the body. Drinking more than a glass or two of wine per day can damage the liver and cause other health problems. Smoking, excessive drinking and illicit drug use do enormous damage to the lungs, heart and colon, as well as effecting mental health. While the Catholic Church does not teach that smoking is a sin, many Christians claim the Holy Spirit has inspired them to stop smoking.

3. Eat a healthy and well balanced diet. We know from the Bible that gluttony is a sin, but gluttony can express itself as obsessive overeating AND as obsessive legalism about food prohibitions. Five small meals per day, or three larger meals per day is better than constant eating or constant dieting. Be sensible. Avoid foods high in fat, sugar and salt. Highly processed food is generally not good for us over the long haul. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day. The kosher diet can actually be healthy, and avoiding pork and shell-fish is actually good advice. A vegetarian diet, while not morally required, can be one of the healthiest diets known. A vegetarian diet comprised of organic foods and using water, wine and juice as drink is always kosher. If interested in a Jewish kosher diet with meat, consult Jewish sources. The key principles are to use moderation. Don't forget to pray before and after meals so that eating becomes a spiritual activity as well as a time of proper nourishment.

4. Daily exercise is a good idea but has been taken to extremes in American culture. Spending two and more hours per day in a gym can lead to a narcissistic obsession. Yet, a half hour to an hour of exercise per day is about right for most people. See a doctor before beginning any exercise regime. Assuming your doctor gives no prohibitions, good exercise will include about three aerobic work-outs per week and two to three strength training programs, such as free weights. Aerobic exercise can be a sports activities enjoyed with others, or something like swimming, brisk walks, dance, or other activity that accelerates the heart rate for a sustained period of time. I like to run in place while praying a rosary! Also. Learn some breathing exercises, and do not rule yoga out as a healthy exercise program for a Christian. Hatha yoga can be embraced as a healthy exercise program without accepting all of eastern philosophy.

5. Speaking of prayer, there have actually been studies that indicate that prayer has a statistically positive impact on both mental and physical health. There are no guarantees, but a person who prays will generally experience greater health than a person who does not. Likewise, you seem to be statistically more likely of overcoming illness faster if someone is praying for you. In addition to a morning and evening prayer and prayers before and after meals, set time aside each day specifically for prayer. Even five or ten minutes each day is a step in the right direction!

6. Have a sense of humor. There are studies that indicate that our ability to laugh improves our health. I recommend reading the comics, reading a joke book, or watching a comedian on television each and every day, even if only for ten minutes.

7. Build relationships! Again, studies indicate that people who have a wide circle of friends and community support live longer and healthier lives than loners. The Book of Proverbs advises having one or two very close friends, and a wide circle of positive acquaintanceships. The Church is a perfect place to build relationships and find a supportive community. Don't expect the needed relationships to build themselves simply by attending Mass – especially if you are one prone to slipping in just before Mass starts, and slipping out right after communion, the whole time sitting in the back each Sunday. Come to Mass early and stay after Mass to mix people. Get involved in parish activities such as prayer groups, Bible studies, choir, or various volunteer activities and social service projects. In addition to church, work at developing and maintaining your family relationships. Make the effort to visit the elderly relative in the nursing home, or the sick relative in the hospital, or the relative doing jail time. Reconcile with your enemies! Be faithful to your spouse! All these efforts will actually contribute to your own health, and these types of actions are part and parcel of the Gospel even if we ignore health concerns!

8. Reduce stress. Implement the seven habits of highly effective people. Be honest and ethical. Save some of your money for a rainy day. Learn good time management. Take deep breaths when feeling anxious. Make sure your work place is ergonomically designed not to cause stress and pain to muscles. Delegate when necessary. Stay informed, but ignore the newspapers sometimes (a break of even one day per week from the news is a good idea). Pamper yourself once and a while with a day at a spa, or simply take a long hot bath and get a massage!

Of course, in addition to matters of personal health, Christians should be concerned about the health of others. In America, a grave concern today is that there are many people who are uninsured for health in an economy with constantly rising health care costs. As Catholics, we should be advocates for the poor, and we should consider health care a right rather than a privelage.


Christians have an ambiguous relationship with money.

On the one hand, some Christians believe that if we live a righteous life and give generously of our time, talent and treasure, then God actually rewards our righteousness by allowing our wealth to increase.

This leads to what many Christian critics refer to as a "Give to get" scheme that is perceived by its opponents as anti-Biblical and finds little support in the tradition of the Church.

Saint Paul tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil (see 1 Tim 6:3). The Gospel according to Matthew records Christ as saying that we cannot serve both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24), and that the rich have a harder time entering the reign of God than a camel passing through the needle's eye (see Mk 10:25 and Matt 19:24). John P. Meier, in his series A Marginal Jew argues that the story recorded in Mark 10:17-22 has historical echoes since it meets the criterion of embarrassment by having a potential disciple reject Jesus' peremptory call to discipleship.

The Beatitudes recorded by both Matthew and Luke indicate that the poor are blessed. There is a general consensus among Biblical scholars that the ministry of the historical Jesus was an itinerant ministry, and that Jesus demanded that some of his disciples forsake their homes and property to follow him.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the post resurrection church sometimes requested new converts to give sell their property and donate the proceeds to the community of faith (see Acts 2:45). This practice was not unique to the early Christians, as recent discoveries at Quumran reveal that sectarian Jews with no relation to the historical Jesus also practiced a communal life of shared property and simple living.

In the historical development of Christianity, many saints have forsaken property to live what they conceived to be a radical Gospel life-style. Anthony of the Desert sold all his belongings and gave the proceeds to the poor to then become a desert anchorite.

Perhaps the most popular story is that of Saint Francis of Assisi, a twelfth century saint who also gave away all his belongings and began living in caves until a body of followers formed around him that became large enough to support a communal life in poverty. In many regards, the life-style of the apostolic church described in Acts of the Apostles, the life-style of the desert fathers and the monastic tradition that arose from them, and the life-style of the mendicant religious orders of the middle ages have expressed perfect communism and radical simplicity as the Christian ideal!

The Old Testament treatment of money is a mixed bag. In places, the Old Testament affirms the notion that a person grows wealthy if they place their trust in God and follow the path of righteousness. Indeed, most of the Old Testament passages regarding wealth affirm this theology. However, in other places, the Old Testament affirms what we see in the radical simplicity of the New Testament church.

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

In his riches, man lacks wisdom. He is like the beasts that are destroyed. (Psalm 49:21)

The Old Testament includes in the notion of righteousness the principle of tithing. This notion means that the first fruits of all our labor are dedicated to God, and the proceeds from this giving functioned in the theocratic kingdom in the manner of income tax in modern America. Regarding monetary income, the principle of the tithe was that ten percent of a person's income was to be dedicated to God.

The Israelites built the temple through the tithe. They built the palace of the king with the tithe. It is likely that their roads and so forth were built with the tithe. The tithe was used to support the livelihood of the Levitical priests.

In the New Testament, a story is related of a poor widow who gave merely the equivalent of two pennies to the temple treasuries. In the Gospel according to mark, Christ says that this woman gave more than all others, because she gave all that she had (see Mark 12:42).

The Christian Church has historically avoided a legalism about giving with the end result that many people give far less than ten percent of their income to the church, or any charity. Yet, the Biblical precedent is to give at least ten percent, with Christ praising those who chose to give beyond their means.

There is no place in the entire Bible that suggest we are doing right by giving less than ten percent. This tithe does not necessarily need to go directly to a church. Many people may chose to give to social service agencies that perform works of charity and justice. This would seem to be a Biblical practice.

Spiritual writer, Og Mandino wrote a short book on success a number of years ago called The Greatest Salesman in the World Many religious people have criticized the book for being too oriented at personal success, rather than a true spirituality.

However, a notion I remember seeing in the book almost twenty years ago is that if we gave 10 percent of our income to God, invested 10 percent in some project intended to increase income (ie – stocks or a private business), and saved 10 percent, we could form a habit of living quite well off the remaining 70 percent of our income. I believe this is a worthy goal, and if we avoid debt along with such a program, I believe that even striving for such use of finances can become a spirituality.

Of course, it should go without saying that our corporate resources are also part of Christian finances. Paying taxes fairly and accurately is a moral imperative. In dealing with your business, one should follow the highest standards of the law and the highest ethical and moral demands. We should avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and ask ourselves if we would want our financial business decisions published in the newspapers, or known by our loved ones. Ethical business practice means treating others the way we want to be treated. It means never using other people as a means to an ends. It means listening to our hearts. Our business decisions should be transparent, consistent with social justice principles, and increase accountability for results that are rooted in the golden rule.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 3:29 PM

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