Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
THE RICH ALSO CRY. THE EMPTINESS OF THE EGOIST RICH.
St. Posidius, in his Vita Augustini, the first biography of St. Augustine, narrates about a man who had donated to St. Augustine a land for the maintenance of the Church in Hippo, maintaining for himself while he lived the revenues of that land. Nevertheless, after some years had passed, he repented of the donation, without being pressured by any necessity, and asked St. Augustine to return the land to him, sending him in compensation one hundred gold coins. St. Augustine did not hesitate, and he returned the documents of ownership of the land together with the coins, making him see that one must not put his heart in the goods of this earth but in those of heaven, since we have to give accounting to God about what we have done with what he has put in our hands, avoiding avarice (Vita Augustini 24,2-8). This month we shall meditate on those persons who have accumulated much material goods and lack the wisdom to administer said possessions, believing that these belong only to them, allowing themselves to be dragged by avarice, without realizing that the life of man is very short, and that one has to give accounting to God on how one has used such good. In this world where we live, money guides the steps and actions of many persons, who are disposed to gain it all or lose it all, including eternal life, so long as they have money. The idolatry of money is the disgrace of humanity today.
Enter into yourself.
Let us prepare ourselves for this recollection day asking that God help us to truly love our neighbor, learning to properly love our own self. Let us observe a moment of silence before invoking the Holy Spirit,
Come, Holy Spirit, grant that we learn to truly love our neighbor as ourselves, but that we learn to love ourselves in you and for you. Thus St. Augustine says: “Examine first if you already know how to love yourself and then I entrust to you your neighbor, so that you may love him as your love yourself; but if you do not yet know how to love yourself, I fear that you deceive your neighbor as you deceive yourself” s. 128,5). Grant, O Lord, that we do not deceive ourselves and that we learn to love ourselves properly in you, without falling into vanity, nor into pride. We beg this of you who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.
Your voice is my joy. The word of God is the beginning of wisdom because it illumines the heart and reveals to us the will of God. Allow these words to fall into your interior and permit that they comfort you, confront you, and make you discover what God is telling you today, in the actual context of your life.
Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God” (Lk 12:16-21).
The firmament of the Scriptures.
Luke gives us an interesting parable, called the Parable of the Rich Fool. Its Sapiential and exhortative character is placed in the preaching of Jesus as a prelude to the need to seek the kingdom of God. In this parable are exposed the concepts of arrogance, avarice, fragility and death. This vocabulary reminds of the Book of Ecclesiastes (Eccl 1:1-18; 3:1-21), of the Bk of Pss (cf. Ps. 103, Ps.90; and of Job (14:2) that insist on how ephemeral is the life of men (flower in the field) and the risk a frivolous living (his days, a shadow that passes). Luke presents a discourse on hunger for possessions as the fountain of death and wasteful life.
The parable arises as a fruit of the petition of someone unknown to Jesus, that he be the judge in the difficulty of distributing the family inheritance (v. 13), Jesus answers him that he is not a judge in those affairs and that one must not be obsessed with riches: Take care to guard yourselves from all forms of avarice; because even though one may be rich, his life does not consist in possessions (v. 15).
If we were to divide the parable in parts, we would see the ideas that arise from the phrases of the Lord: a) guard yourselves from all forms of avarice, coincides with the description of the thoughts of the rich man to store up everything he has accumulated (v. 18); b) although one may be rich, can refer to the image of the rich man and the year of harvest (vv. 16-17); c) finally, one’s life does not consist of possessions, perfectly relates to the end where after he made plans for the future, God tells the rich man that he will die (v. 19-20).
Rich in what matters to God… This is true wealth and life consists of this (Lk 12:22-32). In fact this scene will serve as the motive for Jesus’ discourse on the Kingdom of God, the true wealth that one must seek: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all the rest shall be added unto you (v.31). Luke dedicates the second part of chapter 12 (35-59) to present the value and the search for the Kingdom, using the parables of the treasure, the vigilant servant, the faithful steward and the signs of the seasons.
The foolish rich is a good example that the value of life does not depend on the things one has accumulated throughout life: success, wealth, fame, family, etc. Life is fragile and ephemeral, since it is connected with death as sure destiny. In this sense, all human arrogance and avarice becomes a chase after the wind (Eccles 1:14) because riches, possessions, friends, fame and everything accumulated will not accompany you to the grave. Therefore, all this is foolishness (vaho Qohelet will say).
What gives value to the whole of life is to be rich in what matters to God, recognize the goods above and be made of them. For where your heart is, there also is your treasure, the Lord tells us in the Gospel (Lk 12:34). The Kingdom of God becomes the treasure to be sought, found and kept as if it were the pearl of great price (Mt. 13:46). And yet, this is a treasure that is not to be accumulated, but is to be shared and given to others, then this wealth increases to such a point that death does not become a sure and fatal destiny but a door that opens to a new life.
St Augustine, on commenting on the text we meditate on today, calls our attention that the first sin of this rich man is imprudence, the fact of being foolish, since he lives centered on himself, on the things of this earth, without thinking that God has given him possessions to share with others, that he might be rich in good works. Nevertheless, the foolish rich cannot see it, because he thinks only of the things of this world, he does not put God in his life, he forgets God and thus he forgets his neighbor and finally forgets himself.
They have not put God before them. How can he have God in his presence, one who has present nothing else but the world? He who is busy with augmenting his money, of multiplying his cattle, of filling his store houses, until he can say to himself: “You own so much goods: enjoy the dolce vita, hold banquets, satisfy yourself” … Fool, i.e, you do not understand, you are imprudent, this very night life will be taken from you; and all this that you have accumulated, for whom shall they be? They have not put God before them (en. Ps. 53:7).
This rich man is categorized as foolish, because, as St. Augustine points out, he does not understand. What he cannot comprehend is that man owns nothing, that it is vain thought that man can tell himself: “you own many goods.” St. Augustine reminds us that we are owner of nothing other than our sins (cf. s. 176,6). Everything else comes from God, and we ought to put it at the service of the brothers ‘for the glory of the grace of God,’ according to Paul’s pet phrase in the Letter to the Ephesians (1:6). For this reason, St. Augustine would invite us to avoid one of the great errors of our contemporary world: to believe that we are absolute owners of what we have, material as well as spiritual. Thus he comments: To him we owe that we are, that we live, that we can understand, that we are men, that we live well, that we correctly understand; we have nothing as ours except our sins” (s. 176,6).
In fact, St. Augustine, towards the end of his life, repeated many times a phrase of St. Cyprian which is nothing else but a commentary on the text of 1 Cor. 4:7 (“What have you that you have not received?”). St. Cyprian used to say, as St. Augustine comments: “We can glory in nothing because nothing is ours” (praed. sanct. 3,7).
On the other hand, St. Augustine, in commenting on this text, not only invites us not to be attached to material goods, but also to be prudent, and not foolish on listening to the word of God and to put it into action. The word of God should not leave us indifferent, nor be forgetful hearers and foolish, but to be wise and allow that it truly move us to put it into action, and to live in accord with it.
Oh, my brothers, with how many fools does it not speak today when the Gospel is being read! Are they not foolish who listen to it when it is read and yet do not fulfill it? Since he considered himself wise time and again because he found out what to do, the Lord tells him: Fool! Fool, because he considered himself wise; fool, that you said to yourself: You have stored up abundant possessions for many years. Today your soul shall be reclaimed (s. 107,6).
Finally, St. Augustine reads this passage as an invitation not to delay conversion. Let us not leave for tomorrow the conversion that we can do today. Let us not be like the crow who says “cras, cras” (“tomorrow, tomorrow” s. 224), but let us be converted today, because it can happen to us like to the foolish rich that he made his plans without knowing that God was calling his to his kingdom that very night. Therefore, it is necessary to live always prepared, in body and soul, for the encounter with God.
Do not lose hope. Forgiveness was promised to you. “I thank God, he says, because he promised forgiveness. I have God’s promise.” Then, begin now to live well. But he replies: “Tomorrow I shall live well.” God has promised you forgiveness, but the day of tomorrow no one has promised you. If you have lived wickedly, begin to live well beginning today. Senseless, this very night your soul shall be taken away. I will not tell you: What you have amassed, who shall have them? But, yes, I will tell you: “According to the life you lived, where shall you end up? Therefore, correct yourself, that you may be incorporated to Christ” (en. Ps. 101:1,10).
The cry of the poor.
We have heard maxims about happiness like: “money will make you happy;” “the rich are unhappy;” “when economic need enters by the door, love and happiness get out by the window.” When we carefully analyze the reality of our world, we realize that these are extreme expressions that in good measure do not correspond to reality. The goods of the earth are resources or instruments of which we make use to live with dignity, but they are not the source of happiness nor the cause of unhappiness. Money does not make a person happy or unhappy.
The Forbes list of this year 2020 reports that the North American Jeff Bezos, proprietor of the company “Amazon”, is the richest man in the whole world. In second place he places also a North American, Bill Gates, owner of the company “Microsoft”. And in third place appears the name of the French Bernard Arnault, the proprietor of the company “LVMH”. The enterprising Rafel Badziag interviewed 21 millionaires and found six elements common in them: they wake up early, they live a healthy life, they are avid readers, they reflect much, they plan their whole day and are disciplined. But he did not find as common denominator happiness or unhappiness. The unhappy rich are not so because they have money but because of other reasons.
The Israeli Hanna Rosin wrote an article in the review The Atlantic of the city Boston concerning children of rich families. She said that a good number of these children live stressed, they feel miserable, and they a very prone to lie, to steal and deceive. Similarly, she indicates that one important factor that leads them to this situation is the pressure that their parents impose so that they become excellent. In this way they do not live a happy infancy.
The following story by an unknown author helps us to understand some fibers of happiness. “A man heard it said that happiness was a treasure. From that moment onwards, he began to seek it. First he ventured for pleasure and everything sensual, then for power and riches, and later for fame and glory, thus he explored the world of pride, of knowledge, of travel, of work, of leisure, and everything within the reach of his hand. In a bend of the road he saw a poster that said: “there remain two months of life for you.” That man, tired and disgusted with the insipidness of life, said to himself: “these two months I will dedicate to share everything I have of experience, of knowledge and of life with the persons around me.” And that indefatigable searcher for happiness, at the end of his days found that in his interior, in what he could share, in the time that he dedicated for others, in the denial of self in order to serve, was the treasure that he had desired so much. He understood that to be happy he needed to love, accept life as it comes, enjoy the small things as well the big ones, know oneself and to accept oneself as is, feel loved and valued, to love and value others, have reasons to live and to hope and also have reasons to die and to rest. He understood that happiness springs out from the heart, and is united and tied up with the manner of seeing people and to relate with them; that it is always going out and in order to possess it one must enjoy interior peace. And he remembered that sentence which said: “How much we enjoy the little that we have, and how much we suffer from so much that by mistake we yearn for.”
If happiness is the vocation of man, why are there many unhappy persons? Surely, it is because they seek it in the wrong place. The Sacred Scriptures assure us that God is the fountain of happiness because he is a God of love, of justice, of solidarity, of peace, of wisdom, of life and of many other values that make man happy. The unhappy rich are not unhappy because they have money, but because they have a wrong scale of values in which money occupies the most important place, interpersonal relationships with family and friends have second place and God remains in third place or is expelled from the scale of values. The person attached to material goods easily becomes egoistic and very centered in his possessions. But since material goods do not have the quality to fill the human heart, this remains empty, unsatisfied and consequently unhappy. Attachment to material goods becomes a determining factor to be unhappy. Thus St. Augustine tells us in the Rule that “He is not more happy who has more but he who needs less.” He also says that “he who desires many things condemns himself to indigence. His greed makes him a victim of plurality and a slave of multiplication” (ord. 1,2,3). Besides, the road to happiness is related to love and service to others. It is about living the path of the beatitudes supported by the grace of God.
Your commitment. Your response.
One of the great errors discussed at present is the belief that the person is owner of what he has, without recognizing that everything proceeds from God. How do you live this reality? How do you use what God has given to you?
In your community life, what place does God occupy, your community, the service that you render to the people of God in the moment of making your own plans? How is your response when faced with the needs of others?
In an individualistic and materialistic society, what impact has individualism and self importance in your life? How is your relation to material goods? In what elements of your life can you see that you are not avaricious, like the rich man in the parable? (Give concrete examples.)
If you put your treasure on earth, you put your heart in it. What will happen to your heart on earth? It will be corrupted, it will decay, it will turn to ashes. Lift up on high what you love and love it there in order not to lose it (s. 114A,3). Similarly, the Christian hearts, the more clearly they see the imminent ruin of this world because of the accumulating tribulations, must transport the goods they decided to keep on earth to the heavenly treasure with diligent haste” (ep. 122,2).