8. THE OPPOSITE OF LIBERALITY: AVARICE
1. Avarice consists in an inordinate craving for riches, which makes a man not only strive after them, but refuse to give any portion of his goods to the poor.
We call it an inordinate desire for riches when a man strives to gain far more than he really requires for himself and his family, and is never content, however much he possesses. Thus he is covetous. He is like a vessel without a bottom, that is never full, however great the quantity of liquid that is poured into it. He is like the wolf that is always hungry; like the fire, that ever requires a fresh supply of fuel; like hell, which is never satisfied. Avarice does not consist only in acquiring fresh riches with eagerness, but in greedily retaining what one already has. He who clings tenaciously to the property he has accumulated, is niggardly or penurious; he who grudges every little outlay, is a miser. We meet with covetous persons both among rich and poor. Among the wealthy one often finds money without avarice, and among the poor avarice without money. “The covetous is a worshipper of idols” (Eph. v. 5), for gold is his god. To this deity he devotes all his thoughts and all his care, all his efforts and aspirations, the sweat of his face; he even sacrifices to it his spiritual welfare and his eternal salvation. As the angels find their highest felicity in the contemplation of the Godhead, so the rich delight in nothing more than in handling and counting their money. How great a sin is this, which subjects us to the dominion of those things which were created for our service!
2. The avaricious are miserable both in time and in eternity; for the sake of money they commit all manner of sins, they lose the faith and their peace of mind, they are cruel to themselves and hardhearted to their neighbor, and finally perish eternally.
The desire of money is the root of all evils (1 Tim. vi. 10). The devil hides behind money-bags as a snake conceals himself in a hedge; and he bites you with his venomous fangs when you greedily clutch at gold. He who accumulates riches an4 does not give to the poor is like a fount, which, if no water is drawn from it, becomes foul; for a man’s wealth will not benefit him if no portion of it is distributed to the needy. They that will become rich fall into temptation and into the snare of the devil, and into many un profitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition (1 Tim. vi. 9). For the sake of money the covetous fall into all manner of sins. “Such a one setteth even his own soul for sale” (Ecclus. x. 10). Greed of money fills the houses with thieves, the market with cheats, the law courts with perjurers, the eyes of the poor with tears, the prisons with criminals and hell with the reprobate. For money Judas betrayed his Lord and Master. Not until the Judgment Day will it be revealed how many lives have been sacrificed to this false god. The covetous love their faith. St. Leo the Great says that the greatest of all the evil arising from covetous-ness is the destruction of faith. The avaricious are so absorbed in the pursuit of material gain that they cannot give a thought to their spiritual welfare. You cannot serve God and mammon (Luke xvi. 13). A rich merchant lay on his death-bed, and a priest stood at his side, urging him to repentance. After setting before him the gravity of his state, the priest held up a silver crucifix before him. The dying man fixed his eyes upon it with a softened expression, and the priest rejoiced, thinking the man’s heart was touched But no; the only words that escaped his lips were these: “What do you consider that cross to be worth?” The covetous loses his peace of mind; he lives in perpetual anxiety lest he should lose his wealth. If riches increase, they are a burden to their owner; if they decrease, they torture him. The covetous is cruel to himself; the miser grudges himself the necessaries of life; he often endures the greatest privations. “He consumes his own soul, drying it up” (Ecclus. xiv. 9). He is like the oxen who carry the corn to the garner, and themselves feed on hay and straw. The justice of God often avenges on the miser the tears of the destitute by bringing him to poverty. The covetous is hardhearted towards his neighbor. He has no feel ing for the suffering of others, he shows no compassion, he gives them no succor. His heart is as hard as the anvil, which is not softened by all the blows rained down upon it; for however great the need of his neighbor, the miser is never moved to pity. The covetous only think of what they can get from every one; as the shark devours all the fish that come in his way, so the covetous man ruins his neighbors. “He that gathereth together by wronging his own soul gathereth for others” (Ecclus. xiv. 4), who will squander his riches. The miser is an object of hatred to others. Calif as, King of Babylon, had stored a vast quantity of gold, silver, and precious stones in a tower; when he refused to part with a portion of these for the bene fit of his army, the soldiers shut him up in the tower, bidding him satisfy his hunger and quench his thirst with the treasures he had been so eager to amass. The covetous will be eternally damned. The Apostle includes them among those who will not possess the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. vi. 10). Our Lord says: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. xix. 24). It is a remarkable fact that the ancient poets identified Pluto, the god who reigned supreme in the infernal regions, with Plutus, the god of riches, as if to show that avarice leads to hell. The lover of money gets no good to himself; he undertakes long journeys, he exposes himself to labor and perils for the sake of gain, and when death comes what has he of it all? For all his wealth he has nothing but a shroud, a few planks, and a few feet of earth; while he leaves his property to his smiling heirs, who ridicule the contemptible parsimony he practiced.
3. The surest means whereby the avaricious can conquer the greed of gain, is by forcing themselves to give alms. They ought besides to meditate frequently on the poverty of Christ, and the ephemeral nature of earthly possessions.
Since the best method of correcting a vice is by exercising the opposite virtue, avarice will be cured by liberality. “What,” asks St. Augustine, “can so effectually counteract avarice as the poverty of the Son of God? Consider, O miser, that thy Lord and thy God, Who came down to earth from heaven, would not possess any of the riches at which thou dost clutch so eagerly. He loved poverty and lived in poverty; and, thinkest thou, ought a miserable mortal to desire ardently what the Lord of all creation despised?” Remember also that we must part with all our earthly possessions at our death. We brought nothing into this world, and certainly we can carry nothing out (1 Tim. vi. 7). That which you leave behind at your death will pass into the hands of others, who will perchance make a bad use of it to their own damnation. “The most effectual medicine for the disease of avarice,” says St. Augustine, “is to think daily of death.” True riches are not earthly possessions, but virtues; pursue them (1 Tim. vi. 11), for they are treasures which thieves cannot steal or moth and rust corrupt. Why, then, busy one’s self about the acquisition of evanescent treasures?
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