+JMJ+ Welcome to part 14 of our current Catholic Book of the Month, Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre. During this Lent I’m on a Quest to become a saint, using this book as my guide. Come along with me and let’s become saints together! In this post we’ll look at the cardinal sin of avarice or greed–not mere desire but the disordered and irrational desire to possess or for possessions, one of the “most spiritually dangerous of all the vices” because of the way it “affects the human heart”–and we’ll discover its remedy, generosity.
Avarice is a raging fever…. You are truly avaricious if you longingly, ardently, anxiously desire to possess goods that you do not have, even though you say that you would not want to acquire them by unjust means.Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales, quoted in Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre, page 412, ebook.
We know that avarice (again, not mere desire but disordered and irrational desire, greed) violates the moral law. One of the Ten Commandments expressly forbids us to covet anything that is our neighbor’s. We’re also commanded to give to the poor. I didn’t know this but in Hebrew “evil eye” (ra’ah ‘ayin) does not refer to curses or hexes the way it does in other languages, but it can mean “an envious person” or a “greed person” who looks at someone else’s possessions with an envious eye or turns away his eye from the poor. Proverbs uses the “evil eye” to “describe someone whose avarice drives him to spend his life chasing after money and neglecting his own family.” This greedy person never is satisfied, always wants more. (See Intro, 415-417.) And then there’s this:
…if greed leads people to fail to provide for their own father or mother, they are no better than “a man who destroys”—that is, a murderer.Ibid., 418.
Whoa, those are strong words. That’s how seriously Jesus takes this whole soul-killing thing.
Even though Dr. Pitre doesn’t mention the Rich Young Man or Ruler here and he isn’t accused outright of greed in the Gospel accounts, he does go away from the Lord in sorrow because he had many possessions, so if he’s not exactly greedy, he may well become so if he doesn’t repent. We never hear any more about him in the Scriptures, so we don’t really know which way he ended up choosing. See Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23.
And of course we can’t forget or ignore what Jesus said about mammon. No one can serve both God and mammon, but I never quite put this together quite this way: the part about storing up treasure in heaven and serving God rather than mammon. Oh, I got that part, but I never understood this part this way, I never realized that Jesus was talking about the “evil eye” to “illustrate how greed casts the soul into spiritual darkness…”
Treasures in Heaven
19 Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. 20 But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. 21 For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.
The Lamp of the Body
22 The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. 23 But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!
24 No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.Matthew 6:19-24, DRB, public domain.
Maybe it was the separation of the verses with the different headings. I didn’t realize how closely these verses were related and I had no idea at all about the “evil eye” reference and how it differs from the superstitious view of it in other places and cultures. See Matthew 6:19-25. Jesus isn’t criticizing money or possessoins, but the love of them, the “love of whatever we consider precious” (pg. 423).
Not gonna lie, I thought of the Lord of the Rings immediately when I read that line. Yesss, I certainly did, my preciousss. And that’s a great example of exactly what we’re considering here: the desire that can only be quenched by the thing that will destroy the one who desires it. Perfect love casts out fear, but perfect greed, as it were, casts out love.
Jesus talks about money in Matthew 6:19-24, the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21. When he talks about covetousness here the word used is the Greek pleonexia: “an insatiable desire to acquire possessions” (emphasis in the Intro., 427). And this greed is foolish, indeed. Memento mori, after all.
Now this is hard for me to say, a collector of books and audio gear, and more, but we are supposed to “completely uproot any love for money or possessions from our hearts.” (See p. 429.) Argh! I am that Rich Young Man! (Well, I’m old, not young, and a woman, not a man, and broke, not rich, but other than that, it’s me!)
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is the service of idols.Col. 3:5, DRB, public domain.
And if we refuse? Then we make these things into idols, into God.
9 Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, 10 Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God.1 Corinthians 6:9–10, DRB, public domain.
Only God can quench this desire. But our greed cuts us off from Him by leading us away from Him.
The next thing we have to do is give to others, applying the remedy of generosity (we mentioned almsgiving earlier in this series). How will we react to this teaching of Christ? Will we respond the way the Rich Young Man did, by walking away in sadness, unwilling to part with material possessions and wealth with which he was and we are one day destined to part? I look at my humble (and messy!) abode and see gadgets I don’t need and books I haven’t bothered to read, and I know I have a wishlist that stretches to the moon and back. True, I’ve given away books and things, clothes, some gear. But have I done enough? I cannot honestly say that I have. And this is something I need to rectify soon.
There’s more in the book than I can cover in these posts. You can get a copy of your own using the links at the end of this post. View other parts of the series on the annotated Table of Contents page (scroll down for this part of the larger series).
Next time, lust and its remedy, chastity.
Thanks for visiting the blog and reading. I pray that you and I will stay holy and virtuous this Lent, and may these spiritual helps aid us to become who the Lord intends us to be: SAINTS. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+
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Notes and Links
- The current Catholic Book of the Month is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
- Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales, translated by John K Ryan, Image Classics: Paperback. Translated by Harry B Oseman, TAN Classics: Kindle. Various formats at archive.org: free PDF.
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
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Images: in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Christ and the rich young man, by A.N. Mironov, Wikimedia Commons, attribution required: Andrey Mironov, under Creative Commons International CC BY-SA 4.0. The Rich Fool, by Rembrandt, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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