Lent and the culture of greed

February 28, 2017

By Effie Caldarola

Catholic News Service

Once again, Pope Francis does not mince words. 

In his 2017 Lenten message, our refreshingly candid pontiff takes on the subject of money in our lives and pulls no punches.

The love of money can become a “tyrannical idol,” said Pope Francis, who reminds us that it was St. Paul who said “the love of money is the root of all evils.”

Although society is saturated with consumerism and we obsess about money, the discussion of it remains a social taboo. It’s rude to ask someone to divulge his or her salary, and we wouldn’t ask someone what they paid for their new sofa.   

I know priests who dread their yearly “sermon on the amount.” They hesitate to mention what any family must readily discuss – the budget. Their angst is well-founded – I know parishioners who resent hearing the word money spoken from the altar, as if the mere conversation somehow menaces their pocketbooks.

Our church talks often about a “culture of death,” but we need to hear more about our society’s “culture of greed.”

How else to explain that between 1978 and 2014, inflation-adjusted CEO pay in the U.S. increased by almost 1,000 percent, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute? Wealth may not “trickle down,” but perhaps avarice does.

“The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness,” says the pope.

The early Christians shared their resources and provided for their needy, but we dismiss that as socialism. Sure, we’ll contribute to the food bank or shelter – but often from our excess, not from our essence, forgetting that true Christian charity is sacrificial.

Peter Maurin, a mentor to Dorothy Day and co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, once said that “the coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor.”

That’s a radical statement – after all, we all need one coat – but his radicalism stemmed from the Gospel, and he and Day established hospitality houses where people lived and shared with the poor in dignity. 

The London Catholic Workers expanded on Maurin’s dictum: “the second coat in our closet, the spare room in our home, a place at our table. Anything beyond what we immediately need belongs to those who go without.”

These challenging words speak to what Pope Francis is urging us to consider this Lent.

I’ve written about a friend in London who volunteered her spare room to a refugee student. Another friend is finding one thing in her home to give away for each of the 40 days of Lent.

I know people who tithe – give 10 percent of their income to church and charity – and continued to do so even after losing the primary breadwinner’s salary.

This radical generosity challenges me and makes me see how I fail. Yet, I’m consoled by the words of a deacon friend, who would say, when people asked him how much they should give, “You should give more.”

That’s our challenge. Not to measure ourselves against the likes of Dorothy Day, where we inevitably fall short, but to measure our steps toward sacrificial generosity by our own steady growth.

Pope Francis pointed toward Jesus’ parable of Lazarus, whose pleas outside the door of a rich man were ignored.

Pope Francis tells us, “The rich man’s greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances ... but his appearance masks an interior emptiness.”

We live in a culture of greed where grasping for wealth and security can mask the emptiness we feel. Perhaps the Gospel story of Lazarus and the rich man would make a challenging daily reflection during Lent.

Read more commentary here.

Copyright ©2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.