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Our Things Are Not Ours

by Daniel O’Rourke
05/10/12

T

he wealth and things we have are not really ours. They are gifts, but they are only on loan to us. They are meant for us to shelter and help ourselves and our families, but also to help others, to heal others, and enable others to live more fully. Our money is like manure. If we pile it high and hoard it, it grows moldy and fetid. If we spread it on our fields and gardens, it nourishes the earth, makes things grow for ourselves and for our neighbors.

 

Way back in the 4th Century, Saint Basil the Great said it more bluntly. “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard belongs to the poor.”

Not many of us think about our possessions that way. We have a sense of entitlement towards all that stuff. We consider possessions ours, as our “hard earned money” even when we married or inherited it, or questionable Wall Street shenanigans created it.

The Scripture tell us, "The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). And the English novelist Henry Fielding warns us. "Money is the fruit of evil, as often as the root of it." Both Fielding in his humor and Timothy in the Bible were voicing great truths. But it’s the “love of money,” which is the root and fruit of evil. Not money itself. We can use money itself to do much good.

Good preachers have always alerted us to that. Listen to Billy Graham, "There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches, but the wrong comes when the riches possess men." Of as the French proverb put it, “Money is a good servant but a bad master.” In truth, money is an invaluable servant as well as a horrendous master.

Sadly in our materialistic society, money is the way we keep score. It’s the scale on which we weigh the worth of our neighbors and ourselves. Many judge their worth by the assessed value of their homes, by the number of television sets or bathrooms, by the models of their cars, or even the brand name on their jeans.

God help them, for money, wealth, and possessions do not make us happy. The media often reports about celebrities with much wealth, prestige and power whose lives have sunk into drugs, addiction and sometimes end in suicide. All their stuff didn’t make them happy, but sharing that wealth could have. As that wonderful prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi tells us, “It is in giving that we receive.”

Jesus has something to say about all this. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Mathew 6:19). We store up “treasures” in heaven by sharing our tangible treasures here on earth.

A student in the East once asked his spiritual guru: “Master, how can I become enlightened?” His teacher’s answer: “Feed people.”

We too should “feed” the needy among us – with our stuff. It’s not really ours.

 

Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His column appears in the Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, The Living Spirit is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website http://www.danielcorourke.com/

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