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You Can’t Take It With You… But You Can Send It On Ahead

August 10, 2022 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By MSGR. CHARLES POPE

Part 1

(Editor’s Note: Msgr. Charles Pope posted this essay on July 30 and it is reprinted here with permission. Because of the essay’s length, we are presenting it in two parts. The second part will appear in next week’s issue.)

  • + + Five teachings on wealth from the Gospel of the 18th Sunday of the Year.
    The Gospel today is not merely a warning against greed, it is an instruction on income and wealth given by Jesus to help us root out greed. As the Gospel opens the problem of greed is presented, and then a prescribed perspective about wealth is offered. Let’s take a look at both parts of this Gospel.
    The Problem that is Portrayed — The text begins: Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
    Note that Jesus turns to the crowd (to avoid personally indicting the man of something of which all can all be guilty), and warns without ambiguity that greed must be guarded against. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. It is to want possessions inordinately, beyond what is reasonable or necessary.
    Greed is often downplayed today where accumulation and ostentatious display of wealth is often celebrated. Great rooms with cathedral ceilings, 72” flat screen TVs and even private home theaters (entertainment centers), fancy cars, etc., are shamelessly flaunted.
    But greed is at the root of a lot of evils and suffering. Scripture says:
    “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:7-10).
    Note that these are very strong words. Greed causes us to be discontented and ungrateful, both of which are forms of unhappiness. It also leads us into temptations, into a snare or trap that sets loose the pangs of many harmful desires which seem to expand in ever increasing ways. And this desire for more and more too easily leads us to personal destruction, and to inflict great harm, insensitivity, and injustice on others.
    On account of greed we almost never say, “I have enough, I will give away the rest or use it for others.” Many also wander from the faith since wealth is generally tied to this world and its demands, and they have “too much to lose.” Hence the faith is set aside in favor of the world, greed overrules God and the demands of the Gospel.
    The Lord will develop more of this in the parable ahead. But for now note that the Lord warns about the serious and destructive problem of greed. This is the problem that is portrayed.
    The Perspective that is Prescribed — But the Lord does not simply condemn greed. He next goes on to tell a parable which strives to give a proper perspective about wealth. In itself, wealth is not evil. But without a proper perspective, we too easily fall into greed. Hence the Lord gives five teachings on wealth to help us keep it in perspective and avoid greed.
    The Initiation of Wealth — The text says, There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
    Notice that the subject of the sentence is the land, not the man. It was the land, not the man, who yielded the increase. And hence, whatever we have has come from God and what God has given. Scripture says,
    First, Deut. 8:18 — But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth;
    Second, Psalm 24:1 — The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;
    James 1:17 — Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
    1 Cor. 4:7 — What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
    As such wealth is not bad or evil. But, in all our things, we must never forget that God is the true owner and we are the stewards. An old song says, God and God alone created all these things we call our own: From the mighty to the small the glory in them all is God’s and God’s alone.
    God gives the increase and is the initiator of every blessing, but God remains the owner. And as stewards we are expected to use what belongs to God in accord with what God, the true owner wills. Too easily we forget this and usher in many woes on account of wealth.
    And what is the will of God regarding our wealth? The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of God’s will as the “Universal Destination of Goods”:
    “God gave all the goods of the earth for all the people of the earth. This means that the goods of creation are destined for the whole human race….In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself. The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family” (CCC, nn. 2402, 2404).
    If we will remember that we are stewards of God’s gifts, and that He ultimately intends all to be blessed, we can understand that greed is a form of theft, for it inordinately clings to what should be given to another out of justice. If I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor.
    Remembering that the initiation of my wealth is God, I can help to avoid greed by using my wealth for the purposes God gave it. It is not just for me, it is for all the people of this earth.
    The Inconvenience of wealth — the Parable continues: He asked himself, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?”
    The man sees his wealth and because he does not consider generosity an option, is somehow burdened by it: “What shall I do?” he asks anxiously. To be honest, great wealth brings comfort but it is also a source of inconvenience. Consider just a few things that usually go with wealth: locks, insurance, keys, alarms, storage facilities, worries, fears, repairs, maintenance, upgrades, cleaning, utilities, etc. We live in an affluent age but consider the stress. Consider also the loss of other more important values, we have bigger houses but smaller families, and our McMansions are really more houses than homes.
    Scripture says,
    Eccl. 5:12: — The rest of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.
    Prov. 15:16 — Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.
    Prov. 17:1 — Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.
    Eccl. 5:10 — Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
    So, wealth certainly has its comforts, but it also brings with it many inconveniences which make our lives stressful and complicated. Better to be free of great or excessive wealth in accord with God’s will than to be burdened and inconvenienced by it.
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