Continuing our discussion on the capital vices and their corresponding virtues, today we will talk about avarice. Avarice, a.k.a. greed, is a disordered desire for riches and possessions to the point of acting contrary to the love of God and neighbor. Notice here first that we’re again talking about a disordered desire. In other words, we are acknowledging that for humans living in the world, we do need to have things/possessions in order to survive. The vice lies in where the desire for these things goes too far. This vice may manifest itself in us by having an obsessive desire for more material goods and the feeling of control that comes from it, or a fearful need to store up surplus goods for a vaguely defined time of want in the future, or a desire for more earthly goods for their own sake.
The first of these we might call greed of power. We acquire things as a way of displaying personal power – of being in control of our life and that of others. We work against this by not being afraid to give power or authority over to others, by sharing credit with others for both successes and failures. For those who parent children, it means on some level encouraging children to find their own way and respecting their choices. It does not mean abdicating our responsibilities, but loosening our grip on their lives – as well as our own. God will take care of us. We can’t control everything.
The second of the forms of greed I mentioned we might call greed of fear – in which we desire to acquire so much so that we can’t possibly run out. To work against this involves embracing a degree of poverty – trying to use less of the world’s goods, living simply, and learning to do with less.
The third we might call greed of acquisition and enslavement. This is when we reduce ourselves to a small and cold desire to accumulate more: tech stuff, collectibles, trinkets, etc. In a sense, the things we possess begin to possess us. The simple cure for this type of greed is to get rid of as much as possible, and to “consider the grave.” I like to recall one of Fr. Martin’s favorite lines of wisdom: “Pretty soon we’ll all be dead.” And we won’t take anything with us. If we think about the fact that our destiny is heaven, and that we will all one day die, the things we collect and hold onto quickly seem absurd.
Ultimately, the virtue that works against greed is liberality. Liberality is a generosity towards others in sharing God’s gifts – i.e., not being attached, but being free with regard to what we have in the world, bringing personal contentment with whatever we possess.