Second Meditation - Further Evils of Avarice in the Priest
I. The avaricious priest becomes a stumbling-block to the faithful. According to Church historians, the most balanced and conscientious, one of the sparks that produced the conflagration of Protestantism and caused the explosion of the combustible material piled up by so many abuses and laxity of both people and clergy was the ecclesiastical demand for money, sometimes unjust, sometimes immoderate.
The constant spectacle of a shepherd of souls attached to money soon persuades the people that religion is just another money-making business or concern, a means of livelihood for a person who is either unwilling to earn or incapable of earning a living in any other way.
Eternal and spiritual values are not believed in or are despised, because the master and dispenser of them lives as though for him they did not exist, or as if his only hope was linked up with the tangible good things of earth. If he preaches about spiritual goods, it is taken as a joke, as a hackneyed pulpit theme that nobody believes, least of all the preacher himself; and thus, under the impact of the priest's example, souls will cling more and more firmly to pleasures, honours, and wealth; and religion, if any trace of it should remain, becomes a mixture of Christian formulas and mercenary - not to say ungodly - spirit.
And there are so many instances of this soul destroying and corroding avarice!
II. There is a further consideration: this particular vice, with all its ruinous effects on the avaricious person, especially the priest, turns out to be absolutely of no use; it has not the slightest compensation by way of pleasure in his life.
Lord, there is many a time when Thou couldst have asked Thy priests who had enslaved themselves to the cruel demon of covetousness:
Thou fool! . . . And whose shall be those things which thou hast provided? (Luke xii, 20)Upon the wrinkled and frowning brow of the avaricious cleric might well be stamped, in stigmatisation of his foolishness, these sarcastic remarks from the Bookof Ecclesiastes:
"And there was another kind of frustration I marked, here under the sun.Brother priest, who is going to inherit from you here on earth? Who is going to survive you? Who is going to eat and drink the "pretium sanguinis" of your parishioners and of Christ, the fruit of your sordid life, unworthy of God's minister?
Here is one that works alone, partner nor son nor brother to aid him, yet still works on, never content with his bright hoard, never asking, as he toils and stints himself, who shall gain by it. Frustration and lost labour, here, too." (Eccl. iv, 7-8)
Who is going to make merry and do himself well on the strength of what your covetous and miserly acts kept in hiding and seclusion, like the dragon of the fable? Who is so closely related to you, so deeply loved by you, so near to your heart and so grateful to you for your sacrifices and stintings, that for the sake of leaving him well endowed you even profane your priesthood, make purchaseable products out of your priesthood's sublimest functions, extinguish the flickering flame of conscience, spend your days in sordidness, harrowed by worry, in order to make your little pile?
Who ever loved you so much that, with a view to bettering his worldly condition, you do not hesitate to fling your good name to the gossiping public, and your soul to the unquenchable fire?
III. St. Thomas teaches (S.T. II-II q. 118, a. 5) that there are graver sins, in themselves, than avarice; most sins are, in fact: those directly affronting and injuring God, those that violate human rights; for the simple reason that avarice has for its object exterior goods, goods very inferior to the Glory of God and the welfare of souls. Avarice, we may say, has to do with goods of the lowest grade.
But there is no sin more hideous and indecorous for human dignity than that of enslaving the human will to riches, to things of such paltry value, inferior by far to the things which constitUte the object of spiritual vices, lower even than the mire of fleshly wallowing. The basest, the lewdest, the most hideous thing on earth is to identify the soul and its yearnings with these empty shadows of good; because the soul is what it loves: heaven, if in love with heaven; if mud, mud.
And if this applies to every avaricious person, even to the man aspiring after fabulous wealth, what degradation, what sordidness this vice will take on in the priest, who perhaps has to live a beggarly existence in order to save up in shillings and pence!
Avarice is also the most dangerous of vices. Those of the spirit, pride, for example, are cured or relieved by disillusionment; those of the flesh, with all their powerful sting, are mitigated or neutralised by the winter of one's declining years; whereas avarice of its own nature tends to increase with age.
The older one gets, the more helpless and needy one becomes and the less one is able to fend for oneself, and therefore, the more avid one is to possess and to hoard, as the only remedy for one's indigence and the only support for one's weakness.
Hasn't experience taught a lesson or two in demonstration of this sad fact? How many old people, fast approaching death, already on the threshold of eternity, on those frontiers that allow no earthly chattel to pass through, seem to have no hands or eyes or memory or desire except for the service of their god - money!
1. Could I swear that I have never committed real injustice: larceny, theft, or fraud, with the goods of my parishioners, of the Church, or of the charitable works, that I administer? The diocesan Authorities may not perhaps be able to convict me, but what about my inmost conscience and God's justice?
2. Have I been scrupulously honest in giving an account of all my administrative acts to the person who, according to Canon Law, has a right and a duty to receive it from me? It would be the best guarantee of my straightforwardness and honesty.
3. Have I ever taken advantage of the faithful's ignorance and demanded more than what is permitted by diocesan regulations or lawful custom in matters pertaining to burials, weddings, and church functions? At the hour of death, will my conscience disturb me on this issue?
4. And while supposing that I have proceeded in everything with absolute justice - the world demands as much of any decent person - do I not demand my rights with excessive haste and harshness, like a taxcollector or a money lender?
5. Apart from everything else, am I not mean in aiding the poor? What alms do I give? What sympathy do I show towards the poor? What do people think of me in this matter, those who know me well?
However biassed or distorted their opinion may be, I should do well to find out what it is, not in order to reproach them or to revenge myself, but to arrive at an objective knowledge of myself, to gather clues for passing on myself a correct judgement.
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.
Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!