The sin of avarice is the immoderate desire for temporal goods, especially money.
Now, the use of earthly goods is lawful. Let us remember that in Genesis, God Himself gave man dominion over all creation and commanded him to cultivate the land (cf. Gen 2: 15-16).
These goods granted by God to man, in turn, have a double purpose: our personal utility and that of our brothers, always oriented towards good.
The sin of avarice means, therefore, the excessive demand for these goods, having them in possession merely for the pleasure of possessing them and the unnecessary excess, which compel man to put affection into them and return to his life to obtain more of them, to the detriment of other goods that by nature are superior.
An unprecedented void
We remember from the book “Virtudes: caminho de imitação de Cristo” (Virtues: the way of imitating Christ), that the excessive search for wealth was openly seen as foolish and empty since Greek philosophical tradition.
“In Socrates’ Apology, according to Plato, the philosopher scolds the Athenians for despising the important things and taking care of those that have no value: How is it possible that you, being from Athens, the biggest city, the most famous for its wisdom and power, is not ashamed for striving to acquire as much wealth, reputation and honor as possible, regardless of the wisdom, truth and perfection of the soul, seeking to improve it as much as possible? (…) My occupation has been to wander around, persuading young and old not to pay more attention to the body and riches than to the improvement of the soul, because that way they will become better and better.”1
An infertile search for what passes
The biblical tradition is also clear in this regard. Ecclesiasticus speaks of how meaningless the miserly accumulation of wealth is due to its temporariness, since no material good can be taken after death:
“There are those who are enriched by greed; this will be her reward: when she says: ‘I have found rest, now I will eat of my goods’, not knowing when that day will come, she will leave everything to others and die ”(Eclo 11,18-19).
It is at this point that the harmfulness where the sin of avarice lies: the man who has this addiction worries and turns his actions towards earthly tastes and neglects the celestial, which means, in the last instance, a forgetfulness of God.
What about heaven, is left as plan B?
A miser forgets God and heaven; they become indifferent to them.
In the New Testament, it is through the lips of the Virgin Mary that we see the negative consequences that the sin of avarice can have when the Magnificat exults that the Lord “dismissed the rich with empty hands” (Lk 1:53).
Jesus, when referring to the radical choice for things from above, says in this respect: “you cannot serve God and money” (Mt 6:24).
So the taste for money (which is nothing but another way of referring to earthly riches) appears as a real impediment to serving God.
Now, in the biblical tradition the verb “to serve” does not refer only to a functional act of service, but it also means “to worship”.
Therefore, attachment to money is nothing but a cult of money, which brings with it the worst sin condemned by Sacred Scripture: idolatry.
The idolatry of money
Indeed, when Jesus utters this determining statement, he refers to money as a “master”: “you cannot serve two masters” (Mt 6:24). Lord is the proper title to refer to both an authority (for example: slaves referred to their owners in this way) and to God himself, since, according to Jewish tradition, the name of God cannot be pronounced.
The sin of avarice puts money and earthly goods in God’s place, giving it worship and praise. This is called idolatry, which means “worshiping an idol”.
This practice is strongly condemned in Sacred Scripture: “Your land is full of idols and they love the work of your hands, what your fingers have done. The man lowers himself, the man humbles himself ”(Is 2: 8-9);
“You took your gold and silver ornaments, which I had given you, and made images of men with whom you prostituted yourself” (Eze 16:17).
The Catechism teaches that idolatry is not a thing of the past, but that even today and in many different ways we can fall into this terrible practice:
“Idolatry is not just about the false cults of paganism. It remains a constant temptation to faith. It consists in divinizing what is not God. There is idolatry from the moment that man honors and reveres a creature instead of God, whether it be gods or demons (e.g, Satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the State, money, etc. “You will not be able to serve God and money,” says Jesus (Mt 6:24). Many martyrs were killed for not worshiping “the Beast”, even refusing to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique lordship of God; it is, therefore, incompatible with divine communion” (CIC 2113).
This “incompatibility with the divine communion underlined by the Catechism, inherently leads us to the need for a decision.
In this regard, Pope Francis teaches us: The path of life necessarily includes an option between two paths: between honesty and dishonesty, between fidelity and infidelity, between selfishness and altruism, between good and evil.
A necessary choice
You cannot oscillate between one and the other, because they move according to different and contrasting logics.
To the people of Israel, who were walking along these two paths, the prophet Elijah said: ‘You are claudical with both feet!’ (Cf. 1 Kings 18:21). It’s a beautiful image!
It is important to decide which direction to take and then, once the right direction has been chosen, to walk with impulse and determination, entrusting yourself to the grace of the Lord and the support of his Spirit.
The conclusion of this Gospel passage is strong and categorical: ‘No servant can serve two masters: he will either hate one and love the other, or he will esteem one and despise the other’ (Lk 16, 13). ” (Pope Francis, Angelus Sep 18, 2016)
For the Holy Father, the Lord’s invitation to make a decision for good is clear and radical, as well as the need to purify himself from the vice of avarice which is nothing but a form of corruption, which the evil it produces can be compared even to that produced by drug addiction
Pope Francis says in the same speech:
“Jesus urges us to make a clear choice between Him and the spirit of the world, between the logic of corruption, oppression and greed, and that of righteousness, meekness and sharing. Some behave with corruption as with drugs: they think they can use it and abandon it whenever they want. It starts with a little: a tip here, a bribe there … And between this and that, slowly, your own freedom is lost. Corruption also produces dependency, generating poverty, exploitation and suffering. And how many victims there are in the world today! How many victims of this widespread corruption! On the contrary, when we try to follow the evangelical logic of integrity, the transparency of intentions and behavior, of fraternity, we become artisans of justice and open horizons of hope for humanity. Thus, in giving freely and giving ourselves to the brothers, we serve the righteous Lord: God! ” (Pope Francis, Angelus Sep 18, 2016).
Due to the incompatibility of the worship of the one God, an act in which requires total faith from the people of God (cf. Dt 6:4-5), and the idolatry of money, Ecclesiastical states:
“Nothing more impious than the one who likes money: even your soul sells!” (Eclo 8b).
Cut evil in the bud
However, in the New Testament, St. Paul makes one of the most forceful statements in this regard: “Avarice is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6: 10).
If there are still doubts about the evil that the sin of greed (which is in essence idolatry to money) produces in us, just remember that, moved by it, Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (cf. Mt 26:14 -15).
“Some sins and addictions related to avarice are corruption, theft, injustice, indifference to the poor, among many others. There is also spiritual avarice, which, in a nutshell, is found in brothers who are not content with the gifts that God gives them.”2
¹ LÉNIZ, Juan José. Virtudes: caminho de imitação de Cristo, p. 173. Edições Shalom, 2020.
2 SCIADINI, Patricio. Os vícios capitais e seus remédios. Edições Shalom, 2007.
Translation: Gabriela Gois