The Deadly Sin of Avarice
Our Lord teaches us in today’s Gospel (Luke 12:13-21) that it is the height of folly to put all our efforts into gaining the things of this world while making no preparations for Heaven. If we are wise we won’t place all our trust in earthly vain things because we don’t know how long we will have to enjoy them. The rich man in today’s Parable of the Rich Fool did not use the goods God had put his way to accumulate true and lasting wealth in Heaven. His foolishness lay in the fact that he was to die that very night, leaving all his earthly goods for someone else, while he himself would be left with nothing. As the Book of Ecclesiastes says in the First Reading (2:21-23), a man who has nothing but money to show at the end of his life is a fool, because he can’t take his wealth with him when he dies. Someone else is going to get it. That’s why St Paul says in the Second Reading, “Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Avarice, also called greed or covetousness, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins and is an inordinate love of riches. Of course, we need money and material goods to live in this world, but when they become our main focus they can lead us into trouble. No matter how much money a person might have, avarice can lead to sins of omission. God commands us to practice charity, but the avaricious person will give away only the smallest part of his or her goods with great difficulty, and the more avaricious a person is, the more goods they seek to acquire. Charity can be left to others they think. St Paul says, “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10) because it can so easily result in many other sins such as cheating, stealing and even murder. And on some occasions acquiring riches can cause great suffering to others. But most of the time the desire to acquire or possess goods is not a mortal sin, but left unchecked, it could lead to it.
To rid ourselves of a vice we practice the opposite virtue. So in the case of avarice we neutralise it by practising generosity. While money and certain possessions are essential to live, we must always remember they are a means to an end. There are a number of famous stories about the saints and their generosity. For example, St Nicholas (270-342) helped a poor man provide dowries for his three daughters who would otherwise have gone into prostitution to support themselves, by throwing bags of gold into the man’s house on three separate occasions. And then there was St Martin of Tours (316-397) who saw a beggar shivering in the snow, cut his cloak in two and gave him the one half. That night Christ appeared to him wearing the cloak he had given away and praised him for his generosity.
So let us always remember that nothing we possess is really ours but is given by God to benefit us and others. St Basil (330-379), writing on this Parable of the Rich Fool says we must consider ourselves stewards of everything God has given us. The man in the parable treats his wealth as if it’s all for him. He never even stops to consider whether God has blessed him so that he could bless others.
Of course, generosity to the poor is not the only thing upon which we will be judged, but it will certainly help on that day when we stand before the Judgement seat of Our Lord. Every act of charity we perform in a state of grace during our earthly life will testify on our behalf when we stand before His Throne.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC