The Simple Catholic Snapshots:
- Avarice (Greed) is the Unreasonable Desire for Riches
- How do we Determine ‘Unreasonable’ ?
- What Does Jesus Teach us About Money?
- Is Money Personal or Communal?
- How much is enough?
- Generosity is the Antidote to Avarice
The Simple Catholic Truth:
This is a most difficult topic to discuss because making money and having money and saving money is so deeply ingrained into the habits of our lives. Think about it: we go to school to learn, we learn a skill to get a job, the job provides us money to have food and shelter and other things. Our entire lives have been formed around the notion of ‘earning a living’. From playroom to classroom to boardroom we have been conditioned to desire money.
Of course, food and shelter is critical for our survival and in that sense, making money is a good thing. It’s actually more that just a good thing since part of the dignity of man is to work. Work honors the Creator (CCC 2427). As we acquire more money we reach a point that our survival is no longer in question. At this point, money provides opportunities for recreation, travel or other experiences that translate to happiness. Even this use of money is appropriate since our happiness is part of God’s plan for us all. If we continue we can reach a hypothetical point of having so much wealth (lets say 10 Billion dollars) that there would be no disagreement that this person has ‘enough’. So as we move along this scale from survival, through happiness to a state of unquestionable excessive abundance, how do we know how much is enough? In other words, how much do we need?
The Deadly Sin of Avarice, commonly known as greed, is an unreasonable desire for riches. To understand what unreasonable means I think we must examine what the fundamental purpose of creation is in the first place. Without getting too theologically sidetracked, I think it fair to say that all of creation should be directed towards the fulfillment of God’s purpose of mankind. That purpose, in a nutshell is to allow the grace of God to transform ourselves (all members of the Body of Christ) back into His image and likeness. In the context of the Gospel message of Jesus, we are to imitate and become like Christ.
If the reason for our existence and the ultimate goal of life is to become like Christ, then having money obviously contributes nothing to that end. Money itself can not transform us to the good. Money has no power in that regard. Money is an object, a gift from God that should be thought of as tool to be used to advance mankind to our common goal. The CCC 1905-1909 discusses the Common Good of mankind. A dedication to the common good has three elements:
- A respect for the individual person. People in positions of public authority and individuals must never lose sight of the uniqueness of each man, woman and child. Every person was created in the image of God and as such deserves continuous respect as a person. This applies to all from the moment of conception to the point of natural death.
- The common good requires that the society as a whole be dedicated to the health of the entire body. The group must ensure that the individual preferences of some do not compromise the respect of any other individual or the group. That means that the group is responsible to see that no person goes without basic needs.
- To serve the common good, society must provide a stable and secure environment that allows each person to fulfill his divine purpose.
An unreasonable amount of wealth therefore is any amount beyond the basic needs of survival that does not support the common good of creation.
With these thoughts in mind then, how do we avoid the deadly sin of avarice? The antidote to greed is simple generosity. But in order to be generous, a change of heart and attitude must take place. We must see that dollar as a gift, a tool for the common good and not something owned by an individual or even society as a whole. Properly understood, that dollar, that car, that house, that you-name-it material thing, belongs to God and is temporarily in our possession as a tool to serve mankind.
Allow me to make a point by asking this question: How much money do you have? If you answer by looking in your checkbook or bank statement or wallet and counting your money then perhaps a different basic attitude is required. Instead, I would suggest you consider that a better answer might be to say ‘none’. Yes, that’s God’s money in your wallet. I can hear the dissenters now, accusing me playing a little fast and loose with semantics and of course you are right. Yes, that money in your wallet is God’s but I think you also must admit that most of us really don’t think that way. I know I don’t. I constantly struggle with a wrong attitude.
The antidote to avarice is generosity. Genuine, self-giving generosity.
Generosity means not just giving from excess.
Generosity might mean next time you buy that new car that you can afford, buy the next model down and give the difference to the poor.
Generosity might mean cleaning out the closet and donating these items to someone without. Not just those shirts or skirts that you don’t wear anymore, give away that something special you really like.
Generosity might mean giving your time to join that skid row help ministry.
Generosity means giving for the common good.
Generosity means trusting God and not holding back.
The next time you see that television commercial pushing a silver plastic credit card; the next time you hear the phrase ‘What’s in your wallet’? Don’t think about that 1.5% cash back you might get and where you’re going to spend it; think about this post.
Think about a new Virtue of Generosity.