THE WORKS OF MERCY
Taken from THE CATECHISM EXPLAINED
Written by Fr. Francis Spirago; Edited by Fr. Richard Clarke, SJ
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, New York, 1927
1. THE VALUE OF EARTHLY GOODS AND THE USE TO BE MADE OF THEM
1. Earthly riches do not of themselves make us better in God's sight.
It is not the possession, but the good use of earthly goods which makes us truly rich. It is in his moral qualities, in virtue and not in his wealth, that man's real dignity and greatness consist. Let not the rich man arrogate anything to himself because of the abundance of the goods he possesses. The grave teaches us the worthlessness of earth's treasures, for we can carry nothing with us out of the world (1 Tim. vi. 7). When Croesus, the rich king, showed all his treasures to the sage Solon and asked if he did not consider him a happy man, the sage replied: "No man is to be pronounced happy before his death." Croesus was displeased by this answer, but when, defeated and a prisoner, he stood beside the funeral pyre, he acknowledged the truth of the words. Let us not therefore strive eagerly to acquire riches on earth, but obey the injunction of Our Lord: "Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth, where the rust and moth consume and where thieves break through and steal" (Matt. vi. 19). How admirable is Solomon's prayer: "Give me neither beggary nor riches; give me only the necessaries of life" (Prov. xxx. 8). St. Paul says: "Having food and wherewith to be covered, with these we are content" (1 Tim. vi. 8). Remember Christ teaches us to ask day by day our daily bread.
2. Earthly goods have their value, however, because with them we can earn eternal felicity.
On the one hand earthly riches contribute to our temporal welfare; they relieve us of many cares and anxieties, may render our life pleasant, and give us a certain ascendancy over our fellow-men. The man of wealth is a small potentate. They are also a means of salvation. This may be inferred from the words Our Lord will address to those on His right hand at the Day of Judgment (Matt. xxv. 34). "Your property was not given you," says St. John Chrysostom, "that you might live in luxury and revelry, but that you may help the poor." Money should therefore be regarded as a means of doing good, for it is only good when turned to good account.
3. God is the Lord of all earthly riches; we are only His stewards.
"The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof" (Ps. xxiii. 1). "The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine, saith the Lord of hosts" (Agg. ii. 9). Thus when we give alms, we distribute what belongs to another, not to ourselves.
4. Earthly riches should consequently only be employed in accordance with the commands of God.
We are not even at liberty to make what use we choose of the senses and members of our body; we must employ them as God ordains. It is exactly the same with our property. And how are we to employ our property according to the will of God? We must employ it to His glory and for the welfare of our fellow-men. As the steward has to give an account to his master, so we shall have to give an account to God; He will reckon with us concerning the use of the talents entrusted to us (Matt. xxv. 14). At our death He will say to us: "Give an account of thy stewardship" (Luke xvi. 2).