Readings: Jeremiah 17: 5-8; Psalm 1, Response: Blessed are they who hope in the Lord; 1 Corinthians 15: 12, 16-20; Luke 6: 17, 20-26
Chuck Feeney, soon to be 88 years old, is known as the secret billionaire. Born to a simple blue-collar family of Irish descent in New Jersey, he worked his way up to his fortune. After serving in the United States Air Force, he took advantage of the GI Bill, which allowed him to study wherever he wanted, and qualified.
He applied to and was accepted into the Ivy League school Cornell University. He was the first member of his family to study in college. This became the turning point of his journey.
Ever the entrepreneur, he saw the opportunity to buy and sell duty-free items. He started with liquor with military servicemen, and soon expanded to tobacco, perfume, and cars. He co-founded the Duty Free Shoppers Group in November 1960 and got its first big break in the Hawaii Duty Free Shop.
He was a great visionary and entrepreneur, with a sharp eye for “making a buck.” By the 1970s, he was part of the largest group of duty-free shops in the world with around $3 billion in annual sales, tax-free.
As his wealth increased, he also realized there was more to life than material possession. He made choices along the way. He encouraged his children to work and learn the value of hard work. He adopted a simpler lifestyle and gave money after seeing the needs of many people all over the world.
In the 1980s, Feeney set up a foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, divested himself of his wealth and transferred his assets to the foundation.
In November 1982, he signed away all of his assets, providing modest provisions for his family. All of the profits of the shares went directly to the foundation.
He supported many educational institutions, his own in the US, and colleges and universities in his native Ireland.
His other great quality was his penchant for secrecy. In all his donations, he insisted on anonymity, otherwise the funds would cease to flow. His life and philanthropy was revealed only to preempt any damage a falling out with one of his partners could bring.
It is estimated that, to date, Feeney has given away around $8 billion.
Pardon this long story, but one can see and say that Chuck Feeney took to heart the lessons of this Sunday’s Gospel, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, which also contained the “woes” against the rich and powerful.
The Beatitudes were seen as a radical pronouncement in Christ’s time, turning the world’s values upside down. As scripture commentaries would point out, the linchpin in Luke’s version is Luke 6:24: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
The word Christ used for “have” connotes receiving full payment, i.e., nothing else follows. Thus, we are confronted with the truth that we need to make a choice with regard to the radical reorientation or realignment that Christ invites us to.
With this, Christ sets the stage for the clash of values: wealth and power, or a life of Christian service?
It is a radical choice that we make throughout our life, a choice that Feeney made when he decided to live simply and to share his wealth.
“There is logic in making things happen now. I am not here to tell anybody how to spend their money… but I think there is certainly an obligation for the haves to reach out and see what they can do,” Feeney said.
He clearly made a choice, and now invites, inspires others to do the same. As he wrote, “Give while one is living—to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition.”
“Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”
For more on Chuck Feeney, log on to the website: atlanticphilanthropies.org/ chuck-feeneys-story.