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The sin of greed–because the whole world is not enough

SHOPPING

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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 09/18/19

Greed is a kind of madness. Worse than that, it is a kind of idolatry. 

Get yourself a little something….

Amazon whispers that to me, so gently, so kindly, so caringly, every time I log a visit.  Amazon understands so well, so convincingly, that whatever we have isn’t enough.

It’s not just Amazon.  How many times have you clicked on a link that looks something like this:  “10 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEEDED—UNTIL NOW!”

Why do we click on such links?  Could it have something to do with greed?

Greed (also known as “avarice”) is one of the seven deadly sins. We’ve been taking a fresh look at the seven deadly sins (read about envy HERE; sloth HERE; gluttony HERE; anger HERE; lust HERE). There’s no simple definition of greed. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.” There is no doubt that it is deadly. Expressing vividly Aquinas’ view: In Dante’s Purgatory, the penitents are bound and laid face down on the ground for having concentrated excessively on earthly thoughts. Perhaps an illustration may help.

I know of a family whose two-year old girl did not understand what was going on Christmas morning. She only knew that she was awake earlier than her usual time. She stood, bent over with her head resting on the couch, repeating plaintively, “So, so tired …”  Then her father said, “Sweetie, look at this!” The little girl rubbed sleep from her eyes, and look in amazement at the brightly wrapped package before her. “Mine?,” she asked softly, with a kind of groggy wonder.

That process was repeated several times. But something had changed. Within 20 minutes, the little girl had become nearly feral, surrounded by shredded wrapping paper and with scarcely-acknowledged toys at her feet, as she yelled, “MORE MINES! MORE MINES!”

That’s greed.

We might be able to smile when a little child, not yet at the age of reason, demands “More mines.” It can be ugly among adults, and deadly as well. Consider this dire warning from St. John Vianney:

Avarice is an inordinate love of the goods of this world. Yes, my children, it is an ill-regulated love, a fatal love, which makes us forget the good God, prayer, the Sacraments, that we may love the goods of this world–gold and silver and lands. The avaricious man is like a pig, which seeks its food in the mud, without caring where it comes from. Stooping towards the earth, he thinks of nothing but the earth; he no longer looks towards Heaven, his happiness is no longer there. The avaricious man does no good till after his death. See, how greedily he gathers up wealth, how anxiously he keeps it, how afflicted he is if he loses it. In the midst of riches, he does not enjoy them; he is, as it were, plunged in a river, and is dying of thirst; lying on a heap of corn, he is dying of hunger; he has everything, my children, and dares not touch anything; his gold is a sacred thing to him, he makes it his divinity, he adores it. . . .

Scripture too is replete with warnings. From the Old Testament:

“The eye of the greedy person is not satisfied with his share; greedy injustice withers the soul.” (Sirach 14:9)

Likewise the New Testament warns us:

“And he [Jesus] said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

Lest you think that greed is only a danger for the super-rich, trading in one yacht for a grander one, just go to YouTube and type in BLACK FRIDAY WALMART STAMPEDE. Then recall that this is the behavior of people who are not hungry….

Greed is a kind of madness. Worse than that, it is a kind of idolatry. Through the prophet Isaiah God has asked, “Why toil for what does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2) The etymology of the word “satisfy” is telling:  satis and facere. To be satisfied is to be made full. Our immaterial souls are made for the infinite realities of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. No matter how much we shove into our wallets, our mouths, our homes (and our storage units, to hold the overflow)—no matter how imperiously we sit like a little child yelling, “MORE MINES! MORE MINES!,” the world cannot possibly satisfy us. The whole world is not enough for us. All of creation is not enough for us. We were made for a priceless and endless treasure, who is God Himself. Please, God, before it is too late, let’s act accordingly.

When I write next, I will wrap up our series of reconsiderations of the seven deadly sins. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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