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 quipped up with 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 left universal repercussions upon
the totality of the human race. It’s like a moral Tsunami, 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
A Rich young man who knew the 10
commandments and from the earliest years had observed them, approached Jesus
and asked the Lord the way to eternal life. Jesus told him to obey the Ten
Commandments; this he proudly admitted 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, 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
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, 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! On the contrary, the
rich man, dressed in fine purple, at the table feasts sumptuously every day.
Never once does he lift his hand to offer Lazarus so much as a piece of bread.
Both dead, 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
What was the principle reason for the
eternal loss of the Rich man? It was not for anything that he did do--- sin 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!
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, 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!
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 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!
MEDITATE ON THE LAST THINGS! One day I must die, be judged by Jesus and
even 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!
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”.
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 being 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!”