Possessed by possessions
By Jacqui-Theresa Leiba
In today’s gospel, Jesus’ warning against avarice of any kind is a call to mindfulness and repentance.
The late Trappist monk, Fr Thomas Keating, stated that to repent is to change the direction in which we are seeking happiness. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount’s “Blessed are” or “Happy are” is our guide.
This gospel propels a deep and personal question, ‘How can I spot avarice in my own life and change the direction in which I am seeking happiness?’.
Avarice is extreme greed and craving for more and more. It lurks in the shadows of many lives.
Lawyers, businessmen and politicians are often accused of avarice, but it is also distinguishable in simple folks, family life, culture, and institutions of all kinds. It is the cause of unhappiness, deep anxiety, anger and many squabbles over rights, property, and feelings of entitlement among persons. It brings with it enmity and loss of life, both temporal and eternal.
The antidote for avarice is a heart of gratitude to God in all times and seasons. “Gratitude turns what we have into enough and more…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow,” says US author Melody Beattie.
The Kingdom of Heaven, insinuated via the widespread preaching of the prosperity gospel, and lived out by some, falsely teaches that the abundant life promised by the Lord, is evidenced by an abundance of wealth, creature comforts and other possessions. This is not the benchmark for the abundant life in Christ.
Money and possessions can be used to do much good. It is, as St Paul said, “the love of money” that is the “root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). A clear distinction needs to be made between having possession of a thing and being possessed by that very thing.
Left unchecked, the latter leads to evil intentions and actions.
There are many wealthy persons who are very generous. Instead of building bigger barns like the rich man in this parable, generous people build longer tables and share their good fortune with others.
Jesus’ dire warning is to “Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind”. This disposition of watching and being on guard requires alertness of mind and heart. Avarice can be very deceptive. Deep and sincere prayer for a spirit of detachment is necessary.
Spiritual avarice is of another kind. It is often experienced by persons beginning their journey in the spirit. St John of the Cross warns about this in his writings. Such persons are dissatisfied with the spirituality they have received and the spiritual things they possess.
In failing to view their own spiritual life as enriched, they become dissatisfied and unhappy. Like the rich man building bigger barns, the craving is the same, but the things are different; though just as insidious.
These persons, not being on guard, seek more spiritual books, more retreats, more medals, more rosaries, more excursions to holy places, more advice from spiritual advisors and delay or avoid deeper growth in Christ because of their many distractions.
This seeking is once again turned toward the externals, and there is no lasting gratification. The more that is needed is a prayerful listening, in a spirit of attentive and silent devotion, as exemplified by Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. The Lord reminds us in this gospel, that “a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns…”
The rich man in the parable became possessed by his possessions. He could not differentiate his temporary bodily needs from the eternal needs of his own soul. The human body can take things easy, eat, drink, and have a good time, and even fete night and day, but the soul’s requirements are far different from that of the body.
When the demand is made for one’s soul, no hoard can go with it. No-one will be called fool who truly follows Christ.
(Mt 6:20) Lord Jesus, help me to store up treasures in Heaven where neither rust nor moth destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal. Amen.
Jacqui-Theresa Leiba is a Catholic primary school teacher and parishioner of St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown.