Most of us would like to think that we’re pretty generous people when it comes to sharing our possessions. If we were asked to explain our generosity, maybe we would say we spend time at a shelter or a nursing home. Or maybe if we’re unable to give time, we offer financial support to others in need and charities. Or in another sense, perhaps we’re generous with our food, our homes, and our hospitality; generous in spirit.
But regardless of the different things we’re able to give up willingly, virtually all of us struggle with sacrificing in at least one aspect of our lives. Greed is a difficult sin to pin down and address because we often rely on the tradeoff of our generosity to offset our greed.
Recently on The Inner Life, Josh Raymond welcomed Father Eric Nielsen onto the show to talk about identifying and eliminating greed from our lives.
Father Eric began by explaining that our attachments often allow greed to get in the way of our generosity. That is to say, we may not necessarily be greedy people by nature but there is something in our life that we can’t bring ourselves to detach from. While nostalgia or sentimental attachment is not intrinsically wrong, sometimes it can lead to obsession or infatuation.
Greed is problematic because what it boils down to is “that desire to stuff the whole world into your mouth.” One of the most dangerous and predatory forms of greed is that of money. Father Eric recalled a survey that asked people how much money they thought they would require to retire comfortably. Almost invariably, people answered that they would need about twice as much money as they have now. While that may not sound unusual, it is once you start comparing the extremes of the spectrum: The man who had $500 million actually said that he would need $1 billion to retire comfortably.
The desire for money is an insatiable hunger. Once you’ve acquired some, you only want more because your mind has become accustomed to the amount you have now. You might be satisfied with the amount of power, fame, food, drink, or sex you have access to, but the hunger for money is impossible to manage if you do not keep it tethered.
“Then he said to the crowd, ‘Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.’” (Luke 12:15)
As the saints have taught us time and again, the way to resist sin is to curate its virtuous counterpart. In this case, that counterpart is generosity. Father Eric encouraged the listeners to begin with one small step to eliminating greed, that being the campaign to detach from the things that we’re attached to. Begin by sharing those few possessions that you often have trouble giving up and you will be well on your way.
Josh then turned the conversation to a word that we see in the last two commandments and is often associated with greed: covet. As Father Eric explained, coveting is related because it is so often the antecedent to greed. Coveting is the desire for something that someone else has that we do not. The younger generation is much less concerned with owning things and is more concerned with owning experiences. It’s a symptom of the social media illness. You only see what other people want you to see. You want what they have and the only way to get that is to tirelessly chase money, which in turn will feed your greed. Coveting is not just wanting what you don’t have. It’s wanting what others have so that they have less than you.
There is a common misquote from scripture that says, “Money is the root of all evil.” In actuality, the passage reads, “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:10) It’s important to distinguish that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with having money, or even having a lot of it. The problem arises when we become too attached to it, and that becomes exponentially easier when we are drowning in it. That great quantity provides us with pleasures and we become accustomed to a certain lifestyle that can only be supported by more.
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