Pope Francis on Greed

Pope Francis pulled no punches in his homily this morning on the perils of greed and attachment to money. Pope Francis notes that this is a “day-to-day” problem. It’s something we all must think about, not just those with exceptional wealth or who want to be a billionaire as bad as Travie and Bruno Mars.

The pope explains how money can rip families apart:

How many families have we seen destroyed by the problem of money? Brother against brother, father against son. This is the first result that this attitude of being attached to money does: it destroys! When a person is attached to money, he destroys himself, he destroys the family.

Pope Francis describes how money can enslave us, stripping us of the very freedom we hope to achieve by accumulating it. He notes:

Money destroys! It does, doesn’t it? It binds you. Money serves to bring about many good things, so many works for human development, but when your heart is attached in this way, it destroys you.

Greed destroys the possibility of joy, as no amount of money is enough to satisfy us. At this point, money has become a false god, an idol that captures our hearts and pulls us away from relationships rooted in love:

Having more, having more, having more… It leads you to idolatry, it destroys your relationship with others. It’s not money, but the attitude, what we call greed. Then too this greed makes you sick, because it makes you think of everything in terms of money. It destroys you, it makes you sick. And in the end – this is the most important thing – greed is an instrument of idolatry because it goes along a way contrary to what God has done for us.

He then contrasts the vanity of greed, where we place ourselves at the center of all existence, with the humility of Christ:

Saint Paul tells us that Jesus Christ, who was rich, made Himself poor to enrich us. That is the path of God: humility, to lower oneself in order to serve. Greed, on the other hand, takes us on a contrary path: You, who are a poor human, make yourself God for vanity’s sake. It is idolatry!

When we think of greed, we often think about people like Gordon Gekko of Wall Street, who have turned wealth and power into their gods and greed and selfishness into the chief virtues. Some discard religion; others distort it. A friend of mine, a devout Catholic, explained to me how million-dollar Sweet 16 birthday parties are charitable because they are good for the economy. When the market becomes an idol, it can provide an ideology that justifies greed and excess. Sadly many Christians have mixed this idolatry with their Christian faith. They find ways to mask their individualistic pursuit of self-interest with talk about service to others, sometimes even fooling themselves.

Yet materialism is so deeply ingrained in our culture, we must all be on guard. We are provided with a million justifications for every bit of excess, every indulgence. Suddenly our needs begin to closely resemble our wants; the superfluous has become the necessary. We’re all pulled in this direction. It takes active resistance to break the hold of materialism and eradicate any greed in our hearts. The first step is to acknowledge that it might be there.