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For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:10

This week, we will take a look at the vice of avarice and its opposing virtue mercy. Avarice is the immoderate desire for extreme wealth and material goods. In ancient times, it was known as “covetousness;” today it is known as “greed.” It is natural for man to desire material goods as a means to the basic necessities of life, but avarice turns these goods into gods. “Christian tradition ranks…[avarice]…ahead of lust and second only to pride in the list of all-time spiritual villains,”[1] says Peter Kreeft in his book Back to Virtue.

“Avarice has two parts,” says Kreeft, “greed to get what we don’t have and greed to keep what we have.” “The two opposites of avarice are 1) contentment, voluntary poverty and 2) liberality, generosity, having mercy on others.”[2]

On a deeper level than the economic, avarice is a great unwisdom, a philosophical foolishness, for it assumes that happiness comes from possessing, from having things. This is a lie. Happiness can come only from being, not having…God and his attributes, Truth, Goodness, Beauty…this alone can make us happy, can satisfy the restless heart, can fill the infinite, God-shaped hole at the center of our being.[3]

The antidote to greed is to give to others with mercy. Greed is less than just; mercy is more than just. “Where justice says ‘punish’, mercy says ‘forgive.’”[4] Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount tells us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). Scripture also says: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).

The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, The Gospel of Matthew, speaks of Jesus’ words on mercy. “The Old Testament repeatedly describes God as being merciful, and Israel is called to imitate God’s mercy. Mercy involves an inward identification with those in need and an outward action of kindness and generosity toward them.” [5] In this Beatitude, Jesus teaches the reciprocity of mercy; we will receive mercy to the extent that we extend mercy to others.

There is great gain in godliness with contentment… 1 Timothy 6:6

There is no more important place to be merciful than in the family. It is in being ever ready to forgive offensives and extend mercy to those who offend us, that we show our family members the mercy God has extended to us.

This is the fifth installment in our Lenten series on virtue. The previous reflections can be found at the links below:

Living Virtue Well in Our Marriages and Families

The Cardinal Virtues

The Beatitudes Confront the Seven Deadly Sins

Confronting Pride

[1] Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 109.

[2] Ibid., 110.

[3] Ibid., 112.

[4] Ibid., 113.

[5] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 90.