The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 31. Remedies against Covetousness
Against Covetousness in General
Covetousness is an inordinate desire for riches. Hence we regard as covetous not only the man who steals, but also the man who passionately longs for another's goods or too eagerly clings to his own. With great force St. Paul condemns this vice and declares it the source of all iniquity: "They that will become rich fall into temptation and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition; for the desire of money is the root of all evil." (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
When you are assailed by this vice,
with the following considerations: Remember that Our Lord and Saviour,
at His coming into this world, disdained to possess riches, which are
object of your desires. On the contrary, He so loved poverty that He
for His Mother not a rich and powerful queen, but a poor and humble
He willed to be born, not in a palace, but in a bleak stable, the
of which, covered with a little straw, was His only couch.
During His life upon earth He never ceased to manifest His love for poverty and His contempt for riches. For His Apostles He chose not the princes of great houses, but poor and ignorant fishermen. What greater presumption can there be than that of a base worm coveting riches, when the Creator of the universe became so poor for love of him!
Consider, moreover, your own vileness, since you are willing for a gross and perishable interest to sacrifice your immortal soul, created to the image of God and redeemed by His Blood, compared with which the whole world is nothing. God would not give His life for this material world, but He gave it for the soul of man. How much greater, therefore, must be the value of a soul! True riches do not consist in silver, or gold, or precious stones, but in virtue, the inseparable companion of a good conscience. Set aside the vain opinions of men, and you will see that these precious metals are such only by the judgment of the world, Will you, who are a Christian, become a slave to that which even pagan philosophers despised? "He who guards his riches like a slave is their victim," says St. Jerome; "but he who throws off their yoke possesses them as their lord and master."
Consider also these words of Our Saviour: "No man can serve two masters, God and mammon." (Matt. 6:24). Man cannot freely rise to God and the contemplation of His beauty while he is breathless in the pursuit of riches. A heart filled with material and earthly pleasures can never know spiritual and Divine joys. No; it is impossible to unite what is false with what is true; what is spiritual with what is carnal; what is temporal with what is eternal; they can never dwell together in one heart.
There is another truth of which you must not lose sight: The more worldly prosperity you enjoy, the more destitute you are likely to be of spiritual riches, for an abundance of this world's goods leads you to trust in them rather than in God. Oh! That you knew the misery which such prosperity prepares for you! The desire of more which springs from the love of riches is a torment which far exceeds the pleasure we derive from their possession. It will entangle you in a thousand temptations, fill you with cares, and under the delusive image of pleasure plunge you into renewed sin and prove an inexhaustible source of trouble and disquiet. Again, riches are acquired only at the expense of pain and labor; they are preserved only by care and anxiety; and they are never lost without bitter vexation and grief. But, worse than all this, they are rarely accumulated without offence against God; for, as the proverb says, "A rich man is either a wicked man or a wicked man's heir."
Moreover, all the riches of the world, did you possess them, would never satisfy the desires of your heart. They would only excite and increase them. However great the possessions you accumulate, there will be a continual void within you; you will never cease to long for more. In its pursuit of worldly possessions your poor heart fruitlessly exhausts itself, for it will never find content. It drinks deeply at the fountains of pleasure, yet its thirst is never appeased. Its enjoyment of the possessions it has already acquired is destroyed by an insatiable thirst for more. Marveling at the covetousness of the human heart, St. Augustine asks: "Whence is it that man is so insatiable in his desires, while brutes observe a measure in theirs? They seek their prey only when they feel the cravings of hunger, and after this is appeased they are satisfied and rest. But the covetousness of the rich knows no limit; it is never satisfied, but is perpetually seeking more."
Has not experience shown you also that where there are great riches there are many to consume, to steal, or to squander them? If you would free yourself from all the anxiety consequent on these cares, put yourself in the hands of God and fully confide in His providence, for He never forsakes those who trust in Him. Since He has subjected man to the necessity of seeking food, He will not permit him to perish from hunger. Could God, who cares for the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field, be indifferent to the necessities of one of His noblest creatures? Life is short; every moment brings us nearer to death. Why, then, lay up so much provision for so short a journey? Why burden yourself with so many possessions which must necessarily impede your progress?
When you will have reached the end of your earthly pilgrimage, poor in this world's goods, your wealth of real treasure will far exceed that of the covetous, whose lives have been spent in accumulating riches. How different will be the account exacted of you, and how readily you will part from the little you may have of the goods of earth, because you always esteemed them at their true value! But the rich and the covetou, in addition to the terrible account which will be required of them, will be rent with anguish at parting from that wealth which they loved and adored during life.
Besides the reflections I have suggested, I would ask: For whom are you amassing these goods? Do you not know that you must leave this world as poor and naked as you entered it? (Cf. Job 1:21). Think of this, says St. Jerome, and it will be easy for you to despise the riches of this world. (Cf. Ad Paulin. in Prol. Bib.). Beware, then, lest in the pursuit of these you lose the treasures of eternity.
Death will rob you of all your earthly possessions; your works, good and bad, will alone accompany you beyond the tomb. If this dread hour finds you unprepared, great will be your misfortune. All that remains to you will then be distributed into three portions, your body will become the food of worms; your soul the victim of demons, and your wealth the prey of eager and perhaps ungrateful or extravagant heirs. Ah! Dear Christian, follow the counsel of Our Saviour; share your wealth with the poor, that it may be borne before you into the kingdom which you hope to enjoy. What folly to leave your treasures in a place of banishment whither you will never return, instead of sending them before you to that country which is intended for your eternal home!
Again, I would remind you that God, as a wise and sovereign Ruler, has appointed some of His children the depositaries of His power and the dispensers of His benefits, to guide and maintain the others. If you are of the number of those who from their surplus possessions must contribute to the support of the poor, do you think that you are justified in expending upon yourself what has been given to you for the benefit of others? "The bread which you withhold," says St. Basil, "is the food of the poor; the garments you conceal should clothe the naked; the gold you accumulate is the portion of the needy."
Therefore, you rob the poor whenever you refuse to succor them from your abundance. The riches you have received from God are meant to remedy human misery, not to be the instruments of a bad life. Therefore, do not let your prosperity cause you to forget the Author of all your blessings, and let not those blessings be a subject of vainglory. Do not, I conjure you, prefer a land of exile to your true country. Do not convert into obstacles what is meant to aid you on your journey; and do not make of the succors of life instruments of eternal death. Be content with the condition in which God has placed you, bearing in mind the words of the Apostle: "Having food and wherewith to be covered, with these we are content." (1 Tim. 6:8).
"A servant of God," says St. Chrysostom, "should never seek by his dress to gratify his vanity or indulge his flesh; his only object should be to comply with the necessities and requirements of his condition. Seek ye, therefore, first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matt. 6:33).
Remember also that it is not poverty but the love of poverty which is a virtue. Hence all who voluntarily forsake wealth bear a striking resemblance to Our Saviour, who, being rich with the riches of God, became poor for love of us. They who are compelled to live in poverty, but bear it with patience, never coveting the wealth which is denied them, convert their necessity into a meritorious virtue. As the poor by their poverty conform themselves to Jesus Christ, so the rich by their alms can conform their hearts to the merciful Heart of this Divine Model, who in His lowly crib received not only the shepherds with their simple tokens of affection, but also the wise and powerful men of the East, who came to lay at His feet the treasures of their gold and frankincense and myrrh.<>If, then, God has given you wealth, bestow it generously on the poor, assured that it will be laid up for you as treasure in the kingdom of Heaven; but if you waste the means God has given you, you must not expect to find any before you when you leave this life. Unless such a disposition is made of your possessions, how can you call them good, since you cannot bear them with you and enjoy them in your true home? Lay up, then, by a worthy use of your worldly wealth, a store of spiritual possessions, which alone are truly good, and of which, unless you freely surrender them, not even death can deprive you.
Against the unjust Detention of Another's Goods
In connection with the evil of which we are treating, let us say a few words on the sin of retaining the goods of another. Theft consists not only in unjustly taking what belongs to another, but also in unlawfully retaining it against the owner's will. Our intention to restore it later will not suffice if we are able to do it at once, for we are obliged to make restitution as soon as possible. Inability to make immediate restitution justifies us in deferring it; while continued poverty, if so great as to afford us no means, excuses us entirely, for God does not require what is impossible.
We cannot better explain this doctrine than by the words of St. Gregory: "Remember that the riches you have unlawfully acquired remain in this world, but the sins you committed in obtaining them will accompany you into the next. How great is your folly, then, to leave your profit here and to take only your loss with you-to afford others gratification in this world while you endure everlasting sufferings in the world to come!" (Epist. ad Just).
The folly of covetousness goes still further, and causes you to sacrifice yourself, your body and your soul, to your miserable possessions. You are like a man who, to save his coat, exposes his body to be pierced with a dagger. In what does your conduct differ from that of Judas, if for a little money you will sell justice, Divine grace, your soul itself? The hour of death, at the latest, will compel you to make restitution if you would save your soul. How incomprehensible, then, is the mad folly which prompts you to accumulate your unlawful gains, and, by living in sin, confessing in sin, approaching the Holy Table in sin, completely deprive yourself of spiritual treasures which are incomparably superior to all the wealth of this world! Is he not devoid of reason who acts in this manner? Endeavor, therefore, to pay what you owe, even to the smallest sum, and permit no man to suffer by your neglect. (Cf. Deut. 24:15). Do not detain the laborer's wages. (Cf. Tob. 4:15). Do not compel him to seek and plead for what justly belongs to him, that he may not have reason to say that it was more difficult to obtain his wages than to earn them.
If you have the duties of executor to fulfill, beware of defrauding departed souls of help due them, lest their expiation may be prolonged because of a neglect for which you must some day heavily atone. Pay your dependants regularly, and let your accounts be carefully kept, that they may give rise to no disputes or claims after your death. Do not wholly leave to those who survive you the execution of your last wishes, but fulfill them yourself as far as you are able; for if you are careless of your own affairs, how can you expect others to be more diligent?
Make it a point of honor to owe no man, and you will thus enjoy peaceful slumbers, a quiet conscience, a contented life, and a happy death. The means of acquiring these precious results is to control your desires and appetites and to govern your expenditure by your income, not by your caprices. Our debts proceed from our ill-regulated, uncontrolled desires more than from our necessities, and consequently moderation is more profitable than the largest revenues. Let us be convinced that the only real riches, the only real treasures, are those which the Apostle bids us seek when he tells us to fly covetousness and pursue justice, godliness, faith, charity, patience, and mildness, for godliness with contentment is great gain. (Cf. 1 Tim. 6:6, 11). Be contented with the position in which God has placed you. Man would always enjoy peace did he accept the portion which God gives him; but, seeking to gratify ambition or cupidity, which craves more than God has given him, he exposes himself to trouble and disquiet, for real happiness or success can never be known by one who strives against the will of God.