The covetous, avaricious man hoarding and guarding his property is like an unreasoning baby, chortling and gloating and beaming in the possession of a Christmas-tree ornament. All tinsel and glitter it is, but hollow inside– full of rosy promise, but empty of fulfillment, attractive but fragile. And when it breaks, what pitiful nothingness! So too, it is with created riches. They are as empty as an ornament, yet they are as attractive. And the seductive whisper of the great deceiver keep coming: “Reach and take and taste. You shall be like gods.” Nature already inclines. Earthly possessions are so pleasant—it seems
When the basic tendencies of human nature are properly controlled, they result in the virtues of an upright life. When left uncontrolled,they degenerate into vices of a sinful life.
One of these tendencies is the urge found in everyone to acquire and possess earthly goods. Properly guided by reason and faith, this tendency needs the formation of the Cardinal virtue of Justice and its allied virtues. When uncontrolled, its acts gradually form the vices of covetousness, avarice, injustice, and all their accompanying sins and vices.
God placed in man this natural inclination to acquire and possess things. His purpose was to lead men to acquire enough created goods to permit them, with freedom and security, to care for the physical and spiritual welfare of them- selves and their dependents. More especially, God intended that freedom, security, health, and other benefits arising from the possession of property –including the very uncertainty of its retention– might raise the minds of men to Himself and to the hope of eternal salvation, and thus assist them in obtaining it.
DANGER OF COVETOUSNESS
Covetousness, the sinful perversion and vicious misuse of this inclination to possess, is a great and dangerous vice, and the second of the Capital sins. Pope Pius XI indicated that it has become a prevailing passion and the root of great social disorders, for it binds men’s wills to gaudy, attractive, but worthless earthly baubles.
Greed, avarice, and covetousness create within us an inclination to gloss over any excess or fault in our attitude toward possession of created goods. In more advanced stages, greed creates blindness to right and wrong in our- selves in regard to material goods, although we may clearly see and hate injustice in others. These unholy attachments to wealth and possession are vices that never occur alone. They breed harshness in one’s treatment of others. They foster cruelty and disregard of the feelings, even of the extreme necessity of others.
They approve injustice and foster dis- honesty of all kinds. They disrupt family life, cause arguments, fights and lawsuits, disturb community peace, help to split society and nations, and have caused more wars than perhaps any other vice.
ITS OPPOSING VIRTUES
The key virtue that opposes covetousness and that controls the tendency to secure possession is the Cardinal virtue of Justice. While it gives us the right to secure that share of the world’s goods necessary for physical and spiritual life and health, at the same time, it obliges us to give to all other human beings what is properly their own.
LIBERALITY & PRUDENCE
Allied with justice is the daughter- virtue of Liberality. If God has given freely to us, He certainly expects us to share His gifts with others, with a free and open hand. This is especially true of those gifts that will assist our neighbor in his physical and spiritual necessities. To be truly liberal, prudence in the ad- ministration of our earthly affairs is vital.
We must avoid stinginess and penuriousness and over-carefulness in providing for the future. On the other hand, we must be equally careful not to indulge in a selfish prodigality and the useless or improvident waste of money on idle objects of vanity, pride, and pleasure. The prudent Christian avoids both stinginess and extravagance so that he may practice Christian liberality. And when he gives, it is always in the name of Christ, who has already warned us that at the Last Judgment He will use the practice of this virtue of liberality as one of the criteria for separating the sheep from the goats.
THE VIRTUE OF DETACHMENT
Before we can be liberal, a certain mental attitude toward temporal possessions must be acquired. We call it the ‘spirit of detachment.’ It means that we look on wealth and possession merely as instruments intended to help us glorify God and save our souls. We use them only as is necessary to attain that objective. Instead of becoming unduly attached to them as our very own, we look on them as objects loaned to us by God for a certain period of time. With an attitude of detachment, we can be assured of using material things as God intended.
We can and must possess and use them, but we should never become over- ly attached to them. Like the car or bus that takes us to school or work, we use them, we appreciate them, but we maintain toward them a sort of impersonal detachment. They are common human property to which God has given us the title and use for a brief period so that they may help us reach Him.
Detachment does not mean carelessness about the future. The good Christian saves money, makes investments, plans for the rainy day, and pro- tects his loved ones from abject poverty, which gnaws at virtue. But he also lives within his income and does not forget his soul and its eternal welfare in his cares about his body and its temporal need and comforts.
Source: Toward the Eternal Commencement
Right Rev. Msgr. Clarence E. Elwell