Filling the storehouse

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:  immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry” – such is St Paul’s advice to the believers in Colossae.  (Colossians 3:5) There is a part of me that always wants to hear that proclaimed in rhythms and tones of the Southern tent revival preacher. I want to hear the fire and brimstone and feel the steely-eyed glare that I know is aimed at my heart, ready to reveal to all the world that I am but another idolater whose hidden life is contemptible and condemnable. It’s an acquired taste. …not one to likely carry the day at our Mass this morning. As I said: an acquired taste, but there are nonetheless the deadly sins that need to be put to death lest they lead to our eternal death.

In our gospel we have the one known as the rich fool held up to us for our consideration. Jesus’ central warning is: “Take care to guard against all greed for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) Jesus does not condemn the complex realities of aspiration, wealth, growth, inheritance, success, profit, but warns these are potential portals for greed to plant itself in the human heart. The author of our first reading understood that as he wrote: “The covetous are never satisfied with money, nor lovers of wealth with their gain; so this too is vanity” (Ecc 5:9). Such is the bitter irony of greed: it can’t deliver what it promises. As the monk John Cassian noted in the 4th century: “When money increases, the frenzy of covetousness intensifies.” Greed is insatiable. It always wants more. How much more? As John D. Rockefeller admitted, the seductive “just a little bit more.”

Greed is the desire to possess more than we need. We normally associate greed with money, but we can be greedy for many things — for food, fame, sex, or power. Christians have always identified greed or avarice as one of the seven deadly sins. New Testament Greek scholar William Barclay describes greed as an “accursed love of having,” which “will pursue its own interests with complete disregard for the rights of others, and even for the considerations of common humanity.” He labels it an aggressive vice that operates in three spheres of life:

  • In the material sphere it involves “grasping at money and goods, regardless of honor and honesty.”
  • In the ethical sphere it is “the ambition which tramples on others to gain something which is not properly meant for it.”
  • In the moral sphere, it is “the unbridled lust which takes its pleasure where it has no right to take.”

Greed. Avarice. It is out there. No one is immune to its grasp. And still we are left to grapple with the complex realities of aspiration, wealth, growth, inheritance, success, and profit – all of which can be good – and in their right proportion have been praised by popes in their social justice encyclicals. But greed persists – and it has its consequences.

The wages of the deadly sin of greed is death as the rich fool will find out that very evening. “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.

What might be the counterpoint, a vaccination against greed? I am not a big fan of “Lord please help me to not be greedy.” The problem might be that it only leaves a void – and nature abhors a void. That void will fill up with something,

I wish today’s second reading had included the next two verses where St. Paul answers the gospel question of what matters to God:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Col 3:12-14)

These are the riches that matter to God. If we make our heart a storehouse of this treasure, then we will be truly rich not only in this life, but in the life to come.

In prayer ask God to send the Spirit of holy reminders to begin each day with, “Lord, on this day, help me to recognize the moments when I can be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving – even if I am not necessarily feeling those virtues.” Being mindful allows you to practice the virtues anway. Practice becomes the way you think, the way you act, the words you use, the character you develop and the person you become.

It fills up your spiritual storehouse with what matters to God – and then you are truly rich.


Image: “The First Circle of Hell: Greed” by Great Beyond is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Small town post offices

Back in the 80s and early 90s I lived in a small hamlet in Norther Virginia. My house was two wrong turns off the main road into the hamlet. I used “main road” as a descriptor only because it was larger than all other other roads. The hamlet was small with less than 40 houses, still we did not have mail delivery. But we did have a post office. It was attached to the side of one of the houses, but it was an official postal office with a full time Postmaster – or as she preferred, Postmistress. I usually gathered up the mail once a week on Saturday mornings. In addition to the mail, other services were available: weather forecasts, local news, political updates, friendly chatter, health updates on neighbors, and whatever else was being offered on the front porch of the post office. Lest you think it was an image of small town America, think smaller. The post office was it. If you wanted coffee on the front porch, you brought your own. In the village, neighbors were important. They watched your house when you were gone. They challenged strangers that might be hanging about. It is a fine balance between watchful and nosey.  From time to time I think about Saturdays at the post office and wonder about all that is being lost in our modern world.

Making a fuss

If you read this blog often enough you know that I am always interested in words, especially their etymological origins. But sometimes words are just fun and have fun “cousins” – the far less technical term for synonyms.  The “Word of the Day” from Merriam Webster on this day is one of those “fun family” of words, beginning with “brouhaha” meaning “a noisy confusion of sound” or “state of commotion.”  And now for the cousins: uproar, hubbub, williwaw, hullabaloo, bobbery, and kerfuffle. Some are more fun than others to use in a sentence. And there is no need to make a foofaraw about which might be more fun.

St. Mary: another look

Today is the feast of St. Martha, a woman who listened to what Jesus said to her and corrected herself. We know St. Martha as the distracted host who complained to Jesus that no one was helping her. We met Martha just recently when she and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters, had Jesus over to dinner. Mary sat at the feet of the Lord listening to him speak, while Martha did all the work. She couldn’t help but be annoyed, and she couldn’t stop herself from complaining about it. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do the serving?” she asks. “Tell her to help me.” Jesus’ reply is famous: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. … Mary has chosen the better part.” Continue reading

A Word About Greed

This coming Sunday is the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time with the gospel taken from Luke 12 and, in large part, addresses our relationship to the riches of this life and what constitutes real treasure “in what matters to God.

“Take care to guard against all greed” The text uses two verbs (horate & phylassesthe) in the present tense imperatives, i.e., continual action, in other words “continually take care” and “continually guard yourself from.”  Perhaps this is a Lucan warning that the human condition is akin to alcoholics and their desire for alcohol, we are never cured of our greediness. We are always in recovery; always in need to watch out for and to guard ourselves from this evil power in our lives. Continue reading

Having a bad day

In today’s first reading, Jeremiah is having a bad day – maybe a bad year. He is at the end of his rope in dealing with the people of Judah and Jerusalem in his role of prophet. Jeremiah was not a flash-in-the-pan prophet who showed up like Jonah in Nineveh and everything got done in one day. Jeremiah’s ministry lasted 30 years and was ultimately unsuccessful. Jerusalem did not return to the ways of the Lord and as a result God allowed Babylon to utterly destroy Jerusalem, the Temple and take the people into captivity. Continue reading

The Lord’s Prayer – a second look

Just this past Sunday the gospel was from Luke 11:1-13, which notably includes the Lukan version of the prayer so very familiar to all Christians:  the “Our Father” or also known as “the Lord’s Prayer.” Over the course of the week I wrote about the reading as a whole with the first installment on a July 18th posting. A few days later I got to the verses that constitute the prayer itself. Here is one paragraph of that later post: Continue reading

Land Inheritance

This coming Sunday is the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time with the gospel taken from Luke 12 and, in large part, addresses our relationship to the riches of this life and what constitutes real treasure “in what matters to God.” The dispute and the parable appears only in Luke among the gospels, situated within the on-going travel narrative as Jesus and the disciples move ever forward towards Jerusalem. Continue reading