Pope Benedict XVI said that the saints are the best apologetics. Their lives are a clear and manifest proof of God’s love and action in the human heart, and we know this is so because, though our heart is too little examined, we know the human condition well enough to know its corruption. Seeing the saints is to see a story different from ours, yet like it. We see in them hearts consumed by God’s love, which we know by knowing the opposite – hearts consumed with desire for earthly things.
This is one of the great challenges posed to us by the saints – their detachment from things of this world. We men especially are tempted toward amassing things for ourselves, because our minds are so attuned to what is outside and around us, not what is within. We provide for others, so why not provide a bit more for safe keeping? Fleeing the poverty in our hearts we compensate for it by fleeing to the arms of earthly goods. We don’t want daily bread. We want safes full of bread for decades we don’t know we’ll see.
All of this we do despite God’s clear message that poverty is for all of us. We can complicate this by qualifying it to death – “poverty of spirit” is what he meant, meaning I don’t really have to sacrifice anything. Let God’s word speak. (For those that are unsure of God’s call to poverty, I recommend Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Fr. Thomas Dubay.)
The sin of avarice, what St. Paul calls the “root of all evil” (in the Douay), is sneaky. Why? Because it is procuring material goods is necessary, and it is even permitted that we enjoy them and use them. This is the “Christian’s privilege,” as St. Francis de Sales says, “to be rich in material things, and poor in attachment to them, thereby having the use of riches in this world and the merit of poverty in the next.”
But St. Francis de Sales doesn’t let us off the hook either. As St. Augustine said, “Avarice is the wishing to be rich, not the being rich already.” We might not actual be rich (though few of us can really say that objectively), but we might secretly want it – or perhaps not so secretly. Do you desire to be rich or not? Do you desire it more than heaven? This is answerable by examining which we think of more often. In chapter 14 of The Introduction to the Devout Life de Sales gives a warning that includes specific ways we – especially fathers – can forget the truth:
[No] one will ever own themselves to be avaricious;—every one denies this contemptible vice:—men excuse themselves on the plea of providing for their children, or plead the duty of prudent forethought:—they never have too much, there is always some good reason for accumulating more; and even the most avaricious of men not only do not own to being such, but sincerely believe that they are not…
The brilliance of the Church’s call to true charity is that it reaches out of the immaterial world right into the material, as Catholicism so often does. There is no magic number or balance of Rosaries prayed to increase your bank balance. Without the tension of asking what we need or don’t need we will invariably fall into sin. Is that not so?
Simply put, if we are surrounded by things we must ask if we need them or they should be given away. True charity reaches into our closets and pockets as well as our hearts, beckoning us to be detached from this life so we can soar to heaven more freely. “We are detached,” we say. “We own it. It doesn’t own us.”
“Prove it,” says the Church and the saints and Our Lord. “Give it away.”
Jason Craig works and writes from St. Joseph’s Farm in rural North Carolina with his wife Katie and their five kids. Jason is Director of Program and Training for Fraternus, a mentoring program for young men, and holds a masters degree from the Augustine Institute. He is known to staunchly defend his family’s claim to have invented bourbon.
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