The Answer to Greed
by Rev. William Saunders
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?" Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."
Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?' And he said, 'This is what I shall do. I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you , you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!"' But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God."
June 30th marks the end of the fiscal year for most companies and the preparation for the annual audit. Shortly thereafter, financial statements are released, including a balance sheet of assets versus liabilities. Going back to my accounting days, one of the first principles of business learned was that assets — cash, receivables and property — had to outweigh liabilities for the company to remain viable. Our homes too are like small companies: parents must prudently think of cash flow for monthly expenses and savings for emergencies, college educations and retirement. This is a description of real life. However, human beings that we are, wounded by original sin, we must be careful of greed.
Our Lord warns us to guard against all greed; one’s life does not consist of possessions. Greed is the inordinate desire and preoccupation with having more wealth or possessions. The accumulation leads to a sense of self-sufficiency, complacency toward others and independence of God. Notice the operative word throughout the parable is “I”: “I have a great harvest, I need bigger storage bins, I have all I need for years, I will eat, drink and be merry.” Sadly, the greedy person never seems to have enough. For good reason, St. Paul warned of “the greed that is idolatry.”
The irony is, as Our Lord warns in the parable, at any moment a person can lose everything in an instant — a bad stock market, economic depression or natural disaster, and inevitably death. Each person must give an accounting of life and face judgment. One does not stand before God with the material goods, like the ancient pyramids filled with riches. One stands before God empty handed with the good one has done in this life inscribed on the soul.
Greed is one of the seven capital sins, a deadly sin that can kill the grace of God in our soul, cost us salvation and damn us to hell. In The Divine Comedy’s Inferno, Dante encounters a fellow citizen of Florence everyone called “Ciacco” (“the hog”) who says of his fellow damned, “Pride, envy and greed sparked the fires of these souls.”
The answer to greed is humility, frugality and moderation. Humility entails recognizing that everything is a gift from the Lord; all of our riches including time, talent and treasure must be accepted gratefully and used wisely for the glory of God, for our good and the good of others. Humility (from the Latin humus meaning “dirt”) also commands us, as St. Paul says, “Seek what is above, where Christ is seated. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
Frugality entails distinguishing needs from “greeds.” Ask yourself: Do I really need this? Why do I want this? Will this benefit me and others?
Moderation entails neither giving into excess nor defect, being neither wasteful nor hoarding, neither frivolous nor stingy. To help with moderation, the Old Testament precept of tithing applies, whereby we give 10 percent of what we have, the first fruits to God, whether to the church, the poor or charities. Giving first to God prevents greed.
We honor several saints who held great wealth, possessions and power, saints like King Louis IX of France, King Henry of Germany, Queen Margaret of Scotland, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary and Katherine Drexel. They were blessed with much, but always served the Lord first and used their goods for greater good. Instead of storing up treasure on earth, they stored up treasures in heaven through their works of charity. They practiced humility, frugality and moderation. And in the end, when they presented their spiritual balance sheet to the Lord at their judgment, their names were found written in the Book of Life. Rather than hear the Lord say, “You fool,” they heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of my kingdom.”
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