Covetousness or Avarice

Covetousness, or avarice, is an inordinate love of worldly goods. It is a desire to accumulate and possess material things. It induces us to employ all sorts of means, just or unjust, in order to acquire them. Actually, it is a sign of mistrust in god and His Divine Providence.

If we are covetous, we do not love God, our neighbor, nor ourselves. We love money and possessions. We do not love and serve God, because no man can, at one and the same time, love and serve two masters: God and Mammon. We know this from the words of Christ. (Matt. 6:24). Neither do we love our neighbor, because we are ready to carry out, any kind of injustice to increase our own fortune. We do not even love our own self, at least not our soul, for we do not use our possessions to add to our spiritual treasure, but to sell our soul to the devil. If we do not love God, our neighbor, or ourself, we have no charity, and without charity how can we enter Heaven? Without charity, how can we fulfill our obligations to God? We will deny and forsake Him. Holy Scripture warns us, "The desire of money is the root of all evils." (1 Tim. 6:10)

Our inordinate love or covetousness may not be just for money, but for other things as well: books, pictures, china, cutlery, jewelry, cars, houses, real estate–anything. So whether we are rich or poor, we may be guilty of avarice or covetousness. And, as in the case of the others, this vice increases the more we gratify it.

We may discover this vice of avarice in ourselves by our hardness of heart toward the poor, or to our relatives, or in our reluctance to contribute to the support of the Church. We may discern it by our stingy use of what we have, or in our being too saving with what we ought to use. It may be found in our indifference to charitable works, in our want of zeal for what may cost us something, in our hoarding up money or whatever it is to which we are attached; in paying our debts grudgingly; in being disturbed at trifling losses; in refusing to give or lend.

The malice of the true miser is an obvious and revolting evil. He loses no opportunity to increase his wealth. He employs every means to add to his savings, without regard to justice or injustice. He lives a poor and miserable life. He groans over the least misfortune or loss. He has but one thought–his money. And more often than not, he dies in squalor and poverty, thought possessing a handsome fortune.

Probably we could not classify ourselves as misers, but even lesser degrees of this vice work havoc in our spiritual life. It blinds us to the value of spiritual things. We have no time nor taste for God when we are always seeking material and temporal things. Our Lord warns us in a parable that if we are not watchful, the cares and riches of this world will crowd out of our soul the seeds of faith and piety. Our attachments to possessions may result only in venial sins, but real avarice is classified by St. Paul with the greatest sins when he writes of those who are "filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whispers, detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy." (Rom. 1:29-31).

The desire to possess is deeply rooted in our human nature. It is an appetite both hard to control and difficult to suppress. Under its impulse we find excuses everywhere to acquire possessions: our family must be provided for; we must look out for our old age; for our health; for our safety, and honor. We must have some pleasure! We may be led by avarice to resort to all kinds of means, lawful or unlawful, to acquire and guarantee the possession of the money, the property, the position we desire. We may lie, cheat, steal, take bribes, give false testimony, and betray friends. We may resort to extortion, violence and murder. We may be cruel and hardhearted to the poor because we are intent only on getting more of what we covet, or at least on preserving what we have.

St. Thomas Aquinas points out that one person cannot have a super-abundance of the world's goods without another lacking what is necessary. We see proofs of this everywhere. When many people have a superabundance of earthly goods, there is injustice to others. Avarice causes much discontent and friction. It foments disunion between the rich and the poor.

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