Erich Fromm, a modern psychologist coined this immortal maxim: “If you are what you are and you lose what you have, who are you?” The greatest rock n’ roll group ever, The Beatles, composed a song, “Money can’t buy me love.” Another has offered this pearl of wisdom: “Your possessions possess you!” The Bible, the Word of God, expresses the same truth succinctly: “Love for money is the root of all evil!” Greed, sometimes called “avarice”, is one of the seven Capital sins. In this brief essay we would like to define Greed, explain its origin and describe practical steps to overcome this interior attitude that must be overcome if one truly desires to attain to a fully developed Christian life!
ORIGIN! Greed is one of the seven Capital Sins, and like the other six, its origin can be traced back to our first parents when they committed the first sin, known as Original Sin. This sin caused universal repercussions upon the totality of the human race. It’s like a tsunami of immorality, set off by two people but influencing everyone in the human race (except Jesus and Mary). The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, calls it “concupiscence”— the interior tendency, proclivity or inclination that pulls or tugs us toward evil or sin!
DEFINITION! Greed is the disordered desire for material things. The Book of Genesis constantly reminds us that all of creation is “good.” The evil is not to be found in the reality of creation, but in the human heart’s disordered desire for it!
Actually two of the Ten Commandments refer directly to Greed: the 7th and the 10th : “Thou shalt not steal.” (7th ); “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s goods.”(10th Commandment).
A rich young man who knew the 10 commandments approached Jesus and asked the Lord the way to eternal life. Jesus told him to obey the Ten Commandments; this he proudly claimed he had done. Then Jesus looked at him with love and challenged him: “If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have; give it to the poor and then come and follow me!” The young man’s face fell and he left the Lord sad. The reason? He had many possessions and was overly attached to them, preferring them over the Person of Jesus Christ. Never again does he appear in the Gospels!
In a society with an over-abundance of things, to become attached inordinately can happen almost imperceptibly, like a frog slowly boiling in the bath tub as the water is heated to the boiling point!
Judas Iscariot fell in love with money and fell out of love with Jesus Christ! Ananias and Sapphira, who we find in the Acts of the Apostles, a husband and wife infected with greed, were struck dead for lying to St. Peter. But the root cause was their greed, their insatiable desire for “things”.
A striking parable, related to the dangers of greed, is the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man (Lk. 16) The poor man Lazarus stood outside the gate of the rich man day and night. Filled with sores, dying of hunger, even the dogs would come to lick his sores. What a piteous state! In contrast the rich man, dressed in fine purple, feasts sumptuously at the table every day. Never once does he lift his hand to offer Lazarus so much as a piece of bread.
After their deaths, the Rich man finds himself in the pit of hell in torture longing for a drop of water to refresh his tongue from the fiery torments. The poor man, Lazarus, rests in heaven in the bosom of Father Abraham.
What was the principle reason for the eternal loss of the Rich man? It was not for anything that he did do (sins of commission); rather, it was what he failed to do: the sin of omission. His greed had blinded him totally to the poor man outside his gate, Lazarus, who was really Jesus Christ in disguise. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you did not feed me; I was thirsty and you failed to give me to drink… Whatsoever you fail to do to the least of my brothers that you failed to do to me…” (Mt 25).
How then can we conquer the sin of greed that might be lurking or hiding in the depths of our soul? Let’s give some concrete steps or advice to win the battle!
1. ADMIT IT AND CONFESS IT! If through a thorough examination of conscience and consultation with your Spiritual Director or Confessor you have detected greed as an insidious worm gnawing away at your interior life, then admit it, confess it and beg for healing. Jesus is the “Spiritual Physician” of our soul. He has come to heal the wounds of our sins!
2. MEDITATE ON THE LIFE OF CHRIST! A constant and deep meditation on the life of Jesus can help to transform our spiritual perspective, our outlook on life, on material reality and on the attitude of our heart. Follow this brief thumbnail sketch of His life: born in the stable of Bethlehem of poor parents, years working as a carpenter, 40 days and nights in the desert fasting from all food and drink, three years without anyone permanent abode, “The foxes have their holes and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head”, stripped of His garments and scourged, nailed to the cross and abandoned by almost everybody, dying and giving up almost every drop of His Precious Blood, and finally being buried in a borrowed tomb— all of this a summary of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God!
3. MEDITATE ON THE LAST THINGS! One day I must die, be judged by Jesus and either Heaven or Hell awaits me. Looking at my many possessions, will they be a stepping stone to heaven for me for all eternity? The richest man in the world and the poorest will end up in the same place: six feet beneath the ground! St. Francis Borgia. S.J., who had been the Duke of Gandhi, admired the beautiful Queen who died suddenly. Following the casket of the Queen, the door popped open and Francis saw this most beautiful woman whose face was being eaten by worms! Upon the meditation of the transitory reality of beauty and wealth, Francis left all to enter the Religious life, become a Jesuit and a priest and then a great saint!
4. LEARN TO GIVE GENEROUSLY! St. Paul challenges us to give! “There is more joy in giving than in receiving!” Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who gave all away to follow Jesus in serving the poorest of the poor, asserted: “Give until it hurts!” One of the greatest modern saints, Mother Teresa’s lifelong desire was to quench the thirst of Jesus by serving the poorest of the poor. For her Jesus was truly present in the “distressing disguise of the poor”.
5. DO NOT WORRY BUT TRUST IN GOD’S PROVIDENTIAL CARE. In the Sermon of the Mount Jesus warns us not to worry especially about material things, food or clothing. Look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. God watches over them. The key is these words of Jesus: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be given to you.” If you receive Jesus in Holy Communion, then you indeed are the richest of all! Having God living within the depths of your soul is already living out the Kingdom of God that is truly within! Remember: “If God is with us who can be against us?” Recall Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall lack!”