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Greed and Prodigality
…it is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, inasmuch as man contemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things…
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II Q. 118 A. 1
Put aside, for a moment, all the political rhetoric that speaks about greed, money, taxes, liberal-capitalism, and communism. While important topics, these are political ones that are only understood properly if we first contemplate on the spiritual dimension to the sin of greed. Let us keep in mind that Greed is the last of the Spiritual Sins - that is to say, it is a matter of something principally going askew in the intellect - and is not a sin of the flesh.
How does greed, therefore affect our relationship with God? Greed is both an immoderate desire for goods, as well as the activity stemming from that desire of accumulating excess. In this way, man’s mind begins to seek a type of treasure in external goods that is excessive and contrary to their actual purpose. St. Thomas Explains that money isn’t an end in itself. Rather money, wealth, possessions and all external goods are merely a means to an end.
When wealth becomes an end in itself, it bumps good out of our heart, and replaces him with 30 pieces of silver. That is a pretty horrible thought, isn’t it? Consider Judas who although not actually concerned with the poor, still nonetheless was incapable of seeing the great spiritual wealth in a woman being reconciled to God as she pours perfume upon Christ. What kind of thorn is it in Christ’s heart every time we say we’d prefer stalks of paper (money) to intimacy with him. Yet this is the nefarious reality of greed when it becomes our god.
Greed itself is a type of prison cell for the soul, so that amongst even a liberal society, we find ourselves interiorly enslaved to the game of collecting, and reflecting on our finances. We dream of the money we don’t have, and we safeguard with a cold-hearted approach the wealth we do have. This sin sees happiness narrowly and foolishly. And the sin is deadly. It kills the life of Christ who is the real weighty wealth we ought to be seeking. We would do well therefore to give up all our silver for His Glory.
Prodigality is similar to greed. However, while greed is preoccupied with obtaining wealth, prodigality is about a reckless type of spending. This is why, etymologically we call the Prodigal Son, as such. By asking his father for his inheritance, the son is essentially saying his father is dead to him. An inheritance after all is something we receive upon a person’s death. So in both cases, of greed and prodigality we find ourselves in a mortally wounded relationship with God.
There is a growing tendency to look at the ethics of money as though it were a morally neutral matter that was only to be considered under the science of economics. This non-moral approach deletes greed from the 7 deadly sins, which verifies this position to ultimately be unorthodox and blinded to the pernicious nature of sin. Greed in society needs to be chastened in as much as lust, pride, and wrath do. In this sense, I think a sober examination of this sin as a spiritual reality ought to be discerned before adopting any economic structure that supports an excess of liberty or a deficit of it.
Nonetheless, even amongst good policies being developed, we cannot avoids the reality of grace that is necessary for an interior conversion. The way out of this sin is not simply policy, and governance. It is, from the heart: generosity. When we are occupied with the external and spiritual needs of others, the vacuous, and narrowness of our own desires are brought back to a place of love and sobriety of mind.
One way to practically awaken this sensibility in all of us, is to volunteer at a soup-kitchen. Get to know the patrons of such an establishment, and allow yourself to feel their own hunger. When black-Friday comes, if you go shopping by twice as many things for the poor as you buy for yourselves. Do not allow an indifference towards others escape our care and concern for God’s glory and our neighbor in need. If you practically get involved in generous tasks, you’ll experience the virtue of prudence grow within you, in regard to how you spend money. You will consider the man who pees his pants and only has one pair of pants. You’ll consider the woman who convulses almost anywhere she goes, in the dirt, on the street. We’ll consider those with mental health difficulties that are not being treated. We’ll consider the people addicted to drugs to escape trauma of abuse, and cannot find a way out. We’ll consider how Christ is waiting to be served in each of these people, and how more important that is to winning the lottery.
If any of us as Christians have only a hand and opinion in policy, but not in the actual work of ministry to souls, we will forget the person, we will forget our own soul. We will only see things like Judas.