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Spiritual richness in poverty of spirit
July 26th, 2016
By Father Joseph Previtali


“You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods” is surely the most overlooked commandment by practicing Catholics today. In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus makes sure we can’t miss His liberating teaching about our proper relationship to riches. “Take heed, and beware of covetousness,” Our Lord says in response to the brothers who are fighting over the inheritance, “for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” Our Savior’s teaching on covetousness is strikingly practical. He wants us to know that life cannot be about riches, either now or after death. St. Cyril of Alexandria reminds us that “…covetousness is unprofitable…” because “as the Lord says, You shall build houses of hewn stone, and shall not dwell in them.”

 

 

This inability of riches to bring us true and lasting happiness is illustrated in the parable Our Lord tells in the second part of our Gospel. Here we have the rich man who, after an abundant harvest, tears down his barns to build new ones, so that he can store all his grain for himself, to sustain him in what he imagines will be long-lasting comfort and security. Jesus gives us the delusional interior dialogue that the man had with himself: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” Theophylact of Ohrid comments that Jesus gives us this interior dialogue “to rebuke the motives of the covetous, who seem to heap up riches as if they were going to live for a long time. But will wealth ever make you long lived?” Sure enough, just as the covetous man is putting the finishing touches on his new barns, he hears those dread words from God Almighty: “You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you: then whose shall those things be, which you have provided?” This is a sobering wake-up call for all us.

 

 

How, then, are we to find happiness in our use of our riches? Jesus teaches us about being what He calls “rich toward God.” This spiritual richness is achieved by our embrace of the Beatitude of poverty of spirit. To be “poor in spirit” means that we acknowledge the reality that everything we have ultimately comes from God. St. Basil the Great explains: “Observe also in another respect the folly of his words, when he says, I will gather all my fruits, as if he thought that he had not obtained them from God, but that they were the fruits of his own labors.” Indeed, everything we have has been given to us by God in order to care for our needs and the needs of our neighbors.

 

 

Thus, we become rich toward God and poor in spirit when we distribute our excess goods to the poor. “Why do you abound while another begs? unless that you should gain the rewards of a good stewardship, and be honored with the meed of patience,” St. Basil the Great writes. “Are not you then a robber, for counting as your own what you have received to distribute?” Those are startling words from St. Basil: if we keep our excess wealth for ourselves, we are stealing from the poor. As Pope Leo XIII taught, “Once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, the rest that one owns belongs to the poor.”

 

 

 

In His Wisdom, God has made rich and poor so that the rich may grow holy by giving to the poor and so that the poor may grow holy from humbly receiving from the rich. This is the path to life in Christ with regard to riches. It sets us free from covetousness and makes us rich in the things of God, which are the only things we can take with us into eternal life. “For in vain he amasses wealth who knows not how to use it,” preaches St. Ambrose. “Neither are these things ours which we cannot take away with us. Virtue alone is the companion of the dead, mercy alone follows us, which gains for the dead an everlasting habitation.”

 

 

Father Previtali is administrator of Our Lady of the Pillar Parish, Half Moon Bay.

 






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