Saturday, February 20, 2010


The Religion Section in today's Mobile Press-Register contains a feature on a book written by Karen Spears Zacharias, Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide? In it, the author takes to task the preachers of what is popularly called the “Gospel of Prosperity.” According to this spin on Jesus, God’s main desire for His believing flock is to have wealth. Zacharias rightly argues that this is effectively to regard God as “our sugar daddy,” which He is not, she writes.

It's disappointing that she had to write this book. It seems to me that this should be self-evident to anyone reading the New Testament. Let me offer just a few samples of the teaching of Jesus:

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
“In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage—I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“Sell your possessions and give alms…[and you will have] a treasure in the heavens…” (Luke 12:33)
“You lack one thing; go, sell what you have and give to the poor, then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume…” (Matthew 6:19)

Yet preachers like Joel Osteen have a massive following. Do people really not “get it”? It’s not quite that simple, I don’t think.

After all, there is a Catholic version of the televangelist’s “Gospel of Prosperity”—it is the Novena “never known to fail” that people also sometimes buy into. This is typically a Novena prayer to St. Jude (patron of hopeless cases), in which certain prayers are to be recited in a certain order, a certain number of times per day, with a certain number of copies of the prayer placed a certain number of times in a church—and supposedly on or even before the ninth day of the novena (!) the prayer will be answered: never known to fail. I have seen this prayer left at Our Savior; I had to face it far more at St. Bede in Montgomery, probably because also in Montgomery is a church named St. Jude. It is the Catholic equivalent to The Prayer of Jabez which was so popular a few years ago.

What I think there is in common for people who depend upon magical prayers or the “Gospel of Prosperity” is that they are in difficult straits, and they are looking for a way out. These are the people who for example, on a more secular level, put all their trust in “Mega-Millions Jackpot” lottery tickets. They are desperate and are looking for a quick (and easy?) fix to their real and many problems. When I’m in serious debt it’s very tempting to think that if only I had the right kind of faith, Jesus would solve my money problems for me. And preachers of the “Gospel of Prosperity” are eager to teach you the kind of faith you need to have to be financially secure. So the churches are packed. It’s all the more sad, precisely because it is wrong-headed.

It’s Lent--the special liturgical time to realize that if the “Gospel of Prosperity” had any merit at all, we wouldn’t have to face (nor would Jesus have had to face) the fact of Good Friday and Golgotha. If Jesus had had the magic “Prayer to St. Jude” in Gethsemane, all this might have been avoided. He didn’t; it wasn’t; and so I encourage people to get a jump on Holy Week and the Triduum by reading and meditating on a portion of the 2nd reading for Good Friday’s worship: Hebrews 5:7-10. It is only in dying that we are born to eternal life. Our "prosperity" is in (and only in) the Lord. Happy Lent.


  1. Fr.,
    I find myself bombarded by this type of preaching lately. On the television where these channels are popping up more and more as well as in the many books available. And as a mother to a teenager whom I am trying to teach, I am answering questions that have everything to do with all that you wrote. And it is hard.
    As a person who struggles to learn how to handle finances - I seem to be able to handle everything else much better - I have found great solace in reading Luke.

    Thank you for your post. It was just what I needed today.

  2. Is praying the Rosary (since it is repetetive) also simplistic and for the non-sophisticated, or scholarly? Those too simple to reach toward God (and finding Him), without the benefit or opportunity of having been educated in Theological matters, for instance. I WILL pray the Rosary, and continue to reach out for intercession (for help) to those that are HOME. Guess I'm just not that sophisticated, and neither was my Mother, as she strived for and achieved holiness.

  3. And I pray the Rosary, as well! The repetition is not the point I was making, but rather the idea that by doing a set number of prayers a set way and performing set actions, I can "control" God. Prayer is a conversation with God to place ourselves in His presence and submit ourselves to His will (as did Jesus in the Garden--His prayer was repeated, as well, the NT tells us). It is not a way of manipulating God to get what we want. The reading from Hebrews 5:7-10, used as the 2nd reading on Good Friday) is clear on this. Have a look at it...

  4. I understand your point.....

    Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of Virgins, my MOther, to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen

  5. Please do not use the phrase 'never been known to fail' in any of your petitions of prayer through Novenas. There are many people who are seriously ill or injured that place the last desperate hopes of recovery or cure in these Novenas because of their promise of 'never been known to fail'. There are no words to explain the devastation these already desperate people experience. It often demoralizes them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The Catholic Church has noted that Novenas said in this manner are superstition and should not be used. Continue to pray for divine intervention in times of desperate medical needs but realize that cemeteries are full of souls that many people said many prayers for. There are very few miracles in today's modern world attributed to religious intervention. Please continue to pray diligently however be ready for answers from God that are not what you want. God hears all prayers but he has the ability to say NO to any request.