My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In my previous reflections, I began a discussion of the seven deadly or capital sins: pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. They are called capital sins because they lead to other sins, and deadly because their repetition clouds the conscience, corrupts the concrete judgment of good and evil, and deadens our sense of right and wrong. I started by dealing with sloth, a spiritual sluggishness also known as acedia, which refuses the joy that comes from God and is repelled by divine goodness.
Today I will discuss the deadly sin of avarice or greed. The word avarice comes from the Latin avarus, meaning “greedy” or “to crave.” The Catholic Encyclopedia defines avarice as “the inordinate love for riches. Its special malice, broadly speaking, lies in that it makes the getting and keeping of money, possessions and the like, a purpose in itself to live for. It does not see that these things are valuable only as instruments for the conduct of a rational and harmonious life, due regard being paid of course to the special social condition in which one is placed. It is called a capital vice because it has as its object that for the gaining or holding of which many other sins are committed.”
In our culture, avarice may take the form of “consumerism.” Consumerism is the tendency to buy or consume more than we really need. Shopping malls are plentiful and they have huge department stores and supermarkets, plus there are countless vendors on the Internet where we can buy almost any item imaginable. We may buy many of these items more because we want to rather than because we need to do so. We buy the latest fashions in clothes and shoes, electronics, home furnishings and various possessions that fill our homes, then our closets, basements, attics and garages.
In the Gospel, Jesus was critical of the rich man who built larger grain bins to store up his bountiful harvest for years to come: “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life shall be required of you. To whom shall all this piled-up wealth of your go?’ That is the way it works for the man who grows rich for himself instead of growing rich in the sight of God” (Luke 12:20-21).
The sinfulness of this accumulating of material things for ourselves consists in its leading us to ignore the legitimate and pressing needs of others. The antidote to this crass indifference to the needs of others while narcissistically focused on the desires of self is to cultivate a sense of altruism and generosity through faith and religious observance. In his 2006 book, Who Really Cares, Arthur C. Brooks provides some astonishing statistics about active religious faith and observance as a determinant of charitable giving. Americans who attend church or synagogue or another form of worship once per week give 3.5 times as much to charity as a percentage of their income as do those who rarely attend religious services. They also give of their time, volunteering twice as often.
I know that people in our diocese can be wonderfully generous, so I am providing another opportunity for charitable giving in support of running my 20th marathon, which will take place at the Crazy Horse Marathon in South Dakota on Sunday, Oct. 6. My designated charitable cause in our diocese this year is our Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry. As reported in the previous issue of the Catholic Times, Springfield Catholic Charities received a $78,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to purchase two refrigerated trucks that will be used to deliver food to rural families in need. We are seeking sponsors to help us purchase additional trucks so we can expand the program to other areas of the diocese. We also need food and monetary donations to help stock the trucks and cover operating expenses such as fuel. The trucks cost approximately $50,000 each and some food will need to be purchased at low cost from local food banks in order to fill the orders with nutritionally balanced meals.
Marathon donations for the Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry can be made using the pledge form in the Catholic Times newspaper or on our diocesan website. Marathon donations are also being accepted to help support the education of our 20 seminarians and for grants for youth to attend the March for Life in Washington next January.
Remember, the grace of generosity is the antidote to the poisonous sin of greed. As Pope Francis said during World Youth Day this summer in Brazil, “Let us always remember this: Only when we are able to share do we become truly rich; everything that is shared is multiplied.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.