When I was working at the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Program in Florida, we would often get people stopping by to give donations in the form of money, clothes, toiletries, and other useful items. They were always welcomed, because, often times, we had women leaving their abusive homes and trying to start new lives with absolutely nothing. It was helpful to have clothes and household items on hand to get them started.
One day this man showed up and he asked if he would be able to drop off a lot of donations. I told him that was fine and he said, “It’s a lot. I mean it.” I couldn’t imagine that it would be that much and since we were always in need, I told him it was no problem.
Later on, he showed up and his truck was completely loaded down with tons of unopened boxes. It was all stuff purchased on QVC. The boxes were all sealed even though some were pretty aged. He dropped off that load and continued to come back with load after load. It was so overwhelming. Pretty soon, our small office space was completely bursting at the seams with stuff. Some of it was useful, but the majority of it was just worthless junk. I asked him, “Where in the world did you get all this stuff?!”
“My wife. She just sits in front of the stupid TV, day-in and day-out buying stuff. She thinks she needs it all. It got to the point where I had to get storage shelters to accommodate it all, because it was just piled up all over the house. She doesn’t even open the stuff she gets. They tell her on the show that she needs this or that thing and she buys it. She thinks it’s gonna make her happy, but it doesn’t.”
“Oh my gosh! How did you ever get her to let you get rid of it?” I asked.
“I didn’t tell her. I’m so sick of it all. She has no idea all the stuff she has that she doesn’t even know if anything is missing. It’s completely ruined our marriage. I just want it out of my life.”
After that man left, we were able to distribute a lot of the items to women in need, but, to be honest, so much of it was just stupid, trivial stuff that we just had to pitch it in the trash. I felt sorry for the guy. You could tell that he was at the end of his rope and he just wanted his wife back. Clearly, she had a serious addiction to buying, but the key here is that she was trying to buy happiness. She was greedily buying external things in order to bring about internal happiness and it wasn’t working. Instead of recognizing that she wasn’t really being fulfilled by all this junk, she just kept at it.
So, what does St. Gregory the Great say about greed? He calls it avarice, but I’ll call it greed since that is what we are most used to hearing.
“Avarice also is wont to exhort the conquered mind, as if with reason, when it says, It is a very blameless thing, that thou desirest some things to possess; because thou seekest not to be increased, but art afraid of being in want; and that which another retains for no good, thou thyself expendest to better purpose.”
Layman’s terms: Greed tricks us by telling our minds that there is no harm in desiring something to possess, because we all get afraid that we will be left without and be in want of something. Plus, other people have stuff and they don’t really put it to purpose, but you will. You’ll really use it.
With greed “there springs treachery, fraud, deceit, perjury, restlessness, violence, and hardnesses of heart against compassion.”
How many people have committed fraud in order to get more money?
How many people have felt left out and restless because everyone around them is getting all the newest things and they haven’t got it yet? And how many have loads of money, but don’t feel satisfied?
How many wars have been started over wanting more land, more slaves, more resources?
Of course, greed brings all these things, because it is the sin that tells us that we should never do without and it isn’t fair if others have more. Or that we don’t want others to have more or better than us.
I think the best example of a greedy character is Ebenezer Scrooge. He has all the money one could every want and, yet, he has no compassion in his heart, he is restless, and completely joyless.
For myself, I’m not hoarding away mounds of money or shopping endlessly online. I did, however, notice two things in my life that have to do with greed.
- Before using something up, I would buy more of that something. Let me explain. I have bottles upon bottles of lotion and perfumes sitting on my dresser. Some I’ve had since college. Every Christmas or birthday, I’ll ask for more. I’ve gotten to the point now where I have so many, I can’t even use them all. So, I decided, I’m not asking for anymore until I finish them up. I’ve been using them very deliberately now and trying to actually enjoy them. So far, I’ve actually finished a bottle or two.
- The second thing I noticed was that I was buying things and not using them, like candles, decorations, and clothing accessories. When my kids would ask to use a candle or something, I’d tell them no. I didn’t want to use them up. What the heck is the point then? Just have a bunch of stuff lying around that you never use? So, I’ve changed that. I use my things. I don’t want my things to just sit around unused. Items that I find I haven’t used in forever, I donate. I now ask myself if I really want a certain thing before I buy it. Do I need it? Will I use it? I don’t want to just buy things so that it looks like I have a lot of stuff.
I think in this country, we all are very prone to greed, because we have the money to spend. We buy more than we need and we try to buy happiness in the stores. We fear we will be left without and really it boils down to not trusting God that we can be happy with less. We worry to much about gaining material things than we do about gaining spiritual treasures.
As always, God gives us a virtue to strive for and, in this case, it would be generosity. With generosity we give of our earthly things freely, not concerned with hoarding for ourselves. It’s what makes us give money to a homeless person instead of greedily keeping that money for a Starbucks drink. It’s what makes us find families to give to in the holiday season. It always makes us feel better when we give with a spirit of love. It always brings joy into our lives and into others. We can’t take all this stuff with us, but we can share what we have so that others feel and know our love.
We can die on a heap of money and stuff, but if we have greedily kept it all to ourselves we will have robbed ourselves and others of joy. So strive to give generously of your stuff, your money, your attention, and your love. You will not get to the end of your life and wish you hadn’t.
“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Luke 12:15