Contrary to the antagonizing protagonist of the movie “Wall Street,” greed, also known as Avarice, is not good. Among the capital sins it may not be the worst, but the immoderate or unreasonable desire for riches hampers our pursuit of the kingdom of God.
The Catholic Church is no foe of private property or the entrepreneurial spirit. She is the BFF of the common good and those who care about it more than their wealth. Such persons value stewardship over ownership, holding over grasping. They ask what they can do with what they have for their God and neighbor.
Pope Leo XIII, considered the father of Catholic social teaching, said, “Once the demands of necessity and propriety have been satisfied, the rest belongs to the poor.“ That statement serves as a scathing examination of conscience upon what we own and how we dispose of it.
Bishop Barron channels Saint Thomas Aquinas when he affirms the doctrine of creation as the basis for the Church’s teaching on the use of material wealth. God made the world and everything in it. Everything we have comes from God and is best directed God-ward. Say what you will about Rush Limbaugh, but I’ve always admired his slogan, “Talent on loan from God“ because, whether or not you think he has any talent, if he does, it is. Likewise for the rest of us.
Avarice, therefore, definitely deals with nonmaterial entities; in such cases it is especially related to envy because it is motivated by the fear of inadequacy. Who says you’re not enough? Our fundamental insecurity is one not-to-be-overlooked aspect of original sin; it plays out in all of the deadly sins.
Francis Cardinal George, former Archbishop of Chicago, once spoke to a gathering of prominent donors in his archdiocese. He said to them, “The poor need you to draw them out of poverty; and you need the poor to keep you out of hell.“ Consider also the Lord Jesus’ famous dictum, “The poor you will always have with you” (Mt 26:11). The materially and spiritually poor, if you are open to them, will appear throughout your life in different disguises as aids to your salvation.
The poor in spirit seek out persons and situations that bring them closer to God and virtue. Saint Augustine described the sinful human condition as “curvatus in se” (bent in upon oneself). Nowhere is that condition more evident than in the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32): by demanding his father‘s inheritance, he effectively treated him as if he were already dead. Perhaps, when that son returned home, he began to look beyond himself, and find something of heaven.