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Spiritual Greed


We now move on to the second capital sin that St. John of the Cross considers—spiritual greed or covetousness.  The spiritually greedy never have enough of religious books, art, or articles such as rosaries, crucifixes, and scapulars.  Not content with what suffices to support a solid spiritual life built on substance, not appearance, they long for more of everything religious or spiritual that is material.  They need new religious clothing, new and more expansive rosaries, new and better crucifixes, even though what they already possess is more than adequate.  Like the worldly greedy who long for bigger and better houses, nicer and newer cars, the spiritually greedy long for more and better religious things.  This selfish attachment and spirit of possessiveness is contrary to the goal of the spiritual life which is to become “poor in spirit” in order to be united to God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.(Matt. 5:3)  While it is true that God works through people and things, it is only according to His will and divine providence that we receive the grace and blessings that they can bring.  For example, spiritual reading is very helpful and necessary to advance in the spiritual life, but it can also confuse or mislead if it is done apart from God’s will and providence.  In a spirit of freedom and generosity we should keep our eyes “fixed only upon God, upon being His friend and pleasing Him.” (DN, Bk. I, Ch. 3, No. 2)  What we long for is not material things, but to love God and others according to His wisdom and will, “the substance of interior perfection,” not the exterior means. (Ibid.)  Religious articles help us insofar as they attach us to God, but harm us insofar as we are attached to them.  Let “those who use this world do so as though they used it not. (1 Cor. 7:31)  St. John of the Cross makes this clear with simple anecdotes:  “I knew a person who for more than ten years profited by a cross roughly made out of a blessed palm and held together by a pin twisted around it.  I saw someone else who prayed with beads made out of bones from the spine of a fish.  In neither of these two instances, obviously, did these persons base their devotion (love of God) on the workmanship and value of any spiritual object.” (DN, Bk. I, Ch. 3, No. 2)


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