My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
Avarice is a great evil, and it brings sorrows upon sorrows to the human condition. It makes the most mild-mannered men fiercer and crueler than any beast; it drives them to be merciless and inhuman to their fellow men. A covetous man is never satisfied; he cannot appease his desire even if he acquires everything.
One who cannot quench his own desire will by that very fact never be satisfied or content. How can a man who is never satisfied exercise human kindness and mercy towards his fellow man? How can he think of relieving the misery and need of others? Avarice not only deprives those who suffer from it of the enjoyment of the sweetness of things to come; it also consigns them to everlasting loss.
For this reason, the very acquisitions of avarice are evil – they lack a necessary goodness – for the pleasures which they bring are small and transitory. On the other hand, the woes which they bring are large and eternal.
Therefore, my friends, let us strive to eradicate this sickness from our souls at its very root, that in the present life we may avoid all the terrible evils which spring up from it, and in the age to come we may escape torment.
Wanting to deliver us from avarice, and wanting to elevate our nature to its ancient nobility, our Lord and God proposes to us the parable which hear in today’s Gospel: the parable of the rich man whose ground, as the Gospel says, brought forth plentifully, producing even more than the man could possibly store. To remedy this, the man – instead of giving of his surplus – decides to tear down his barns and build even larger ones that he might hoard his goods.
This rich man appears to be foolish and insatiable. And though God knew him to be selfish and unmerciful, God nevertheless did not remove His blessing from him immediately, on account of His great mercy and goodness. He did not condemn the man for his foolish way of thinking from the very beginning, but rather kept on adding more wealth to the man’s original wealth. For God is patient to the very end; He bestows good things upon all men and He awaits each man’s reformation. Thus He shows His clemency and His kindness.
It has been said, and I believe quite rightly, that twofold are the trials which confront men: by adversity or by prosperity.
When afflictions and hardships beset the hearts of men, ideally they will bring out the goodness of that person, through patience, like gold in the furnace. Worldly well-being, on the other hand, can often serve for many as a test which causes their ungrateful thinking to be laid open and seen by all.
It is equally bad not to be humble and submissive in adversities and tribulations, as it is to be led into pride and insolence by worldly fame and success.
The Lord, then, made the crops and the possessions of the rich man increase, and multiplied the fruits of his labour, so as to call him to generosity and charity and leave him no excuse. But the man was hard-hearted and senseless, he had no inclination to practice charity, and he did not comprehend that it is just and right to share one’s surplus with the needy.
When he saw his storehouses bursting with plenty, he desired to add new buildings. Though every season brought him more, he never felt that he had enough, and his misanthropic heart never had its fill. He became perplexed, thinking and saying to himself, What shall I do? He complains as if having a plentiful harvest is a problem. What shall I do, he says, for I have nowhere to store my crops?
The poor grieve because they lack the bare necessities of life, and therefore might understandably say, “What shall we do?” But it is not right even then that we make it into a problem or a complaint. Rather, we ought to give thanks for all that we in fact do have, and to commit and offer all that we have to the providence, the care, and the philanthropy of God.
But why does and avaricious person say and do such things? Because they are never satisfied; and they are not grateful for the gifts of God. If the poor ought to endure wisely and to thank God for all things, so much more so should the rich be wise and give thanks in all things, receiving good gifts from God in abundance.
But behold, my friends, what sort of sorrow avarice brings to the the rich! Though they own many things, they waste away with countless worries and cares. Possessed by great ignorance, they are afflicted and sad and weighed down by their burdens.
The rich man in today’s Gospel did not understand that his prosperity was from God; he did not manage it as God’s steward nor did he desire in his heart to share it with anyone. He thought, rather, that everything came from his own efforts; he imagined that the yield of his crops resulted from his own toil and was meant for him alone; therefore, he spoke of my fruits, my grain, my goods.
He desires to gather them up and guard them. And having done so, he says to himself: “Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.”
Now, to eat and to rest to satiety is proper to everyone. For the rational soul, however, the true good lies in understanding, contemplating, and taking joy in God’s laws and commandments, in doctrine and in good thoughts. For what rest is there in wearing oneself out with cares and commotion? To give oneself over wholly to food and drink is torturous, and gives rise to countless ailments. As many as surrender themselves up to physical foods and earthly passions, have their belly as their god. We ought not, of course, live to eat, but rather eat to live. Therefore must we restrain and master our bodies and appetites by fasting and abstinence.
Make no mistake, my friends. Though poverty is thought by many to be an evil, it is not so. For that poverty which is accompanied by a virtuous way of life, with sobriety, vigilance and wisdom, is a release from evils. In the same way, wealth is thought by many to be a good, but it is not so simple a good, unless one manages it properly, that is, for necessary and rightful purposes, and for helping the poor. If wealth were such an absolute good, it would follow that they who possess wealth are all good men. But since not all rich men are good and virtuous, but only they who use their wealth well, it is evident that wealth is not a good in and of itself, but is, rather, neutral in terms of virtue.
Likewise, if poverty were an evil, it would follow that all who are impoverished are evil, but since many in poverty have received great graces and the blessings of heaven, poverty is not an evil. With a properly disposed intellect, will, and heart, we easily discover that neither wealth nor poverty can do harm to our salvation. For they that live in virtue may have both wealth and poverty, and all things are good and conducive to salvation for them; whereas those who live in vice have nothing good, and they ruin themselves, be they rich or poor.
But then, for all this, we hear in the Gospel the dread sentence: God said unto him, Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee: and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?
How fearsome and terrible this announcement! It should be for us a sobering reminder, as well. For death can come invisibly, unexpectedly, suddenly. It will find us all, in whatever state of soul we might be.
It will find the virtuous awake, keeping vigil, having prepared for the coming of the bridegroom, even in the midst of the night.
Contrarily, it will find sinners sleeping in the darkness of the passions as in the night, confused in mind and ignorant of the good. They that live in vice and lust do not have the light of divine knowledge to illumine them; they think their pleasures to be enlightenment.
For the sinful and the passionate live without any holy fear; they are too lazy and negligent to turn to things that are divine and spiritual.
The Lord also said: and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? We can make provision for the future, but we must never delude ourselves. For many people save up money and property, but often it is not their children who inherit it, nor their friends or relatives, but complete strangers – the “government,” even – who seize and retain the inheritance. At times, too, calamity may strike, or nature may simply take its course, for nothing earthly will not pass away. Goods will crumble to dust, modern tender will lose its value.
Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.
Every man who strives and struggles for transitory things, labours in vain. Everything in nature is wasted and rotted by time; all of life is full of bustle which has death as its end. A man is rich toward God when he hopes in Him, and has Him as his wealth, his glory, and his solitary boast. He is rich toward God when he believes with all his heart and trusts in Him, that even if he should give away and exhaust all his possessions, he would not lack anything that he needs, but when he will be in need, he will receive from God all that is necessary. But he who lays up treasure for himself, trusts in the greatness of his wealth and is set in his vain way of life. Such a fool will hear and suffer the same things heard and suffered by the rich man of the parable.
Let us, my dear friends, not lay up treasures for ourselves, nor let us send away empty the poor who come to us. Let us not enrich ourselves wrongly, but rightly, believing that we shall have riches from God. For truly, better is a little with justice than great revenues with iniquity.
Instead of tearing down and building up material storehouses, let us strive to destroy the storehouses of sin in the soul, since with their destruction the buildings of virtue will increase. And let us not deprive God of His own goods, which He has given us as stewards in order that we may supply the needs of those who are in want. For the gifts of good deeds return back to the giver, and unfailing is the wealth of charity. That which is given is received, and that which is spent is saved. In this way we hope to obtain those everlasting good things of the age to come, through the grace and love towards man of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.