+ St. Thomas of Villanova +
Greed - turn on the television and greed blares out like a million snapping snakes from the screen and into the home. Open the newspaper, glance at the stands full of tabloids, and greed is glorified, sanitized, justified, and praised. In the "cultured" West, we live in the age of excess in extremis.
Success is determined by monetary gain, people scramble to burn their money on material things as though they were starving men killing each other over a bag of rice, celebrities are praised for giving ten dollars to a charity when their earnings could save small countries. Money is treated as god, as the penultimate indicator of successful living, as the chart by which to measure one's personal worth. But in all this, we have forgotten that we can take none of it with us. The greedy hide under blankets of gold like children would hide under their blankets from invisible monsters.
The sin of greed (sometimes referred to as "avarice") begs us to forget that "all is vanity" (Eccl. 1:2), to spurn the very Savior who asks us, "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Matt. 16:26) St. Cyprian of Carthage tells us that "Whatever a man prefers to God, that he makes a god to himself."1 In our age, it seems to be that not only lust and gluttony, but greed as well have taken precedence to God, and though material things are not evil in and of themselves, many times we see that in reality "one man cannot overbound in external riches, wthout another lacking them..."2 (St. Thomas Aquinas) Avarice "kills the spirit and makes people slaves to wealth who care nothing for God's commandments. Such people love no one except for their own profit."3 (St. Catherine of Siena)
As one can see, greed usurps the primacy of Christ in our lives by replacing Him with earthly things. Against this, "St. Thomas teaches that in order to arrive at the perfection of charity it is necessary for the heart to be completely detached from the things of the world, that it may concentrate all its affections on God."4 (Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary-Magdalen)
Two cures come to mind in order to help the soul keep God as number one in their lives, two that ward off inclinations to greed. One is to be found entirely within the book of Ecclesiastes. The entirety of this book of Holy Scripture is a hard-hitting reminder that all material wealth, all things that we can cover ourselves with and amass inside our homes, all is rot and decay, and we can take none of it with us. We are not to be fooled, as the ancient Egyptians were - just because we are buried with our money does not mean we take it with us into the afterlife. While our bodies decay in the ground and our souls face Judgment, our money lies dormant.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux offers us a second antidote to the poison of greed, stating that it is conquered when "what is better is preferred to what is merely good."5 By preferring God above all things, by keeping in mind the Four Last Things (Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell), we can keep our minds focused on what we are supposed to be focused on.
"O Lord, do not permit the love of temporal goods to be an obstacle, to become a wall between You and me."6 We, as Christians, must not let ourselves be consumed by the love of wealth and material gain; we must instead approach things with a kind of holy moderation, using what we have been given by God for good, but not indulging in excess.
1 - From here.
2 - Summa Theologica II:118:3
3 - Dialogue, 33
4 - Divine Intimacy, 86
5 - On Loving God, XIV:38
6 - Divine Intimacy, 85