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What is the passion of Greed & Avarice?

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August 23, 2017

 What are the Passions and How do I Fight Them? : Greed and Avarice

We continue our investigation on the passions that we fight daily, which prevent us from achieving our potential in Christ. In this fourth part of the series, we will answer this question: what is the passion of greed or avarice? Firstly, for those of our viewers who have not yet watched the very first video of this series that explains what the passions are, we encourage you to do so in order to have a better understanding of how the Christian ought to define the passions. In the meantime, let us simply summarize the first part by reminding ourselves that virtues are established when we use our God-given faculties and gifts to discover and turn towards Him. Passions, on the other hand, are what disorient us away from God. Rather than taking what He has given us to turn to Him, we utilize those things to turn towards created and temporal things. That being said, let us see what the textbook definition of greed and avarice would be. According to the common day dictionary, greed is an “intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.” Avarice is often understood as an extreme form of this very same greed. Is that however how our faith and the early Church would define it? Is there anything more to it that would help us understand why it is seen as a passion? Let’s explore all those questions.

Greed and avarice are the selfish desires and attachments to money and material objects. Where the Church warns us is not only at the level of the desire, but rather at the willing attachment to these things. This attachment or dependency is manifested in the enjoyment experienced in its ownership, the care in possessing it, the struggle of separating oneself from it, and the discomfort felt when one practices generosity. Again, let us be clear: material things are not in and of themselves evil. We know that all things created by God are good, as it is emphasized in the first chapters of Genesis. Nevertheless, the power that we allow such things to have on us is precisely where the danger lies. Greed is a passion because rather than seeing that humans can exercise dominion and power of all creation, we observe that humans willingly subject themselves under the influence and control these things.

For instance, God’s intention for money and material goods ought to be used by humanity so as to help it meet its needs. There is clearly a practical value associated to such things. Greed and avarice, nonetheless, confuse the human soul to not see these things as a means to an end, but an end in and of themselves. The person therefore begins to adopt a compulsive attitude towards these objects, attributing to them an intrinsic value that does not exist. Thus, it is when we begin to attribute false value to such things that we begin to find a false sense of satisfaction, not in their use, but in their possession.

It is for this very reason that the Lord Christ in the Gospel warns us that money can be seen as a master. Let us read that passage together from Matthew chapter 6:

“Matthew 6: 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

The Lord is revealing to us here that the state of the soul that is greedy or avaricious is one where money and material things are no less than idols. Unless this passion is overcome, the person who suffers from it will find that the material things that they surround themselves with, that they long to possess, that occupy their minds and keep them up at night will act as direct competitors to God in our lives to rule over our hearts.

It is worthwhile to note that the Lord, when He created humanity in His image and likeness, made sure to create every soul with the capacity to long after God. We know that God is infinite, and that the void, which is inside all of us, can only be filled by Him who is infinite. What then is the soul to do, when it was meant to receive Him who is infinite, but now instead, is being given temporal and finite things rather than the immeasurable love of God? The soul of the person in this case will forever be in a state of want and hunger. It is never satisfied and constantly looking for what it truly desires. But the person who struggles with greediness and avariciousness is deceived in thinking that the more they run after their love for money and material goods, the more this will appease the emptiness inside. Unfortunately, they do not yet understand that the void inside the human being can only be filled with the Holy Trinity.

St. John Chrysostom writes on this passion and compares its awful effects to a well-known illness of the mind and body:

“There is no illness crueler than [the] incessant hunger that doctors call bulimia; no matter how much one eats, nothing can alleviate it. Transfer such an illness from the body to the soul—what is more frightful? The bulimia of the soul is avarice; the more it gorges on food, the more it desires. It always stretches out its wishes beyond what it possesses. (St John Chrysostom: Homilies on 2 Timothy VII.2.)

We must therefore realize that such passions inflect tortures on the soul and those who suffer from it are in a constant state of want. To combat it one must adopt a spirit of humility and submission to the Lord to allow Him to be their source of everything. It is only when we call Him ‘Master’, that He can then fill us and allow us to long for Him and Him alone.

Remember know your faith, live your faith, and teach your faith.

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