"And he said to them, 'Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions'" (Luke 12:15).
Father Andrew Greeley writes, "The most serious spiritual problem in the country today is reckless and untrammeled greed."
These words are relevant to the current economy we are trying to slug our way through. The conditions were created by greed, greed that cannot be blamed on or healed by any political party. Greed is the ambition of individuals. Greed is a blight of the soul. Greed was not created by Mr. Bush or Mr. Obama. Both, albeit from differing ideologies, cast their version of equity against the voracious tsunami of selfish men and women in corporate and Wall Street cocoons.
But we like to hoot and holler and blame someone. For there is no way it can be our fault, no way that my sensibilities and well choreographed posture of entitlement can be to blame. I've earned mine. I worked for it. Heck, all I did was claim what was mine to claim. No, it is not my fault!
What is a red-blooded American to do? We are told that the abundance of possessions does indeed define who we are. Drive it, wear it, live in it, own it, and I am it, we think. Our collective mantras of buy, own, borrow and borrow and borrow assure us that the demi-god of interest rates will not let us down! We forget that the American Dream once meant independence, self-motivation, and creativity, and that it once depicted a pioneer spirit. Today the American Dream is a stewy mush of insurables supported by a portfolio of retirement benefits we hope will insulate us from both time and those who are "less fortunate."
We've conveniently allowed someone to sneak into the text of our heritage with an eraser, removing the language declaring covetousness a sin. We've treated the words as unwanted invectives, as outdated or quaint or sentimental, with no bearing on our lives or obligations of living in community with others.
Sure, I can feel the pangs of guilt when I see the aftermaths of an earthquake on an already blighted island nation. Heck, I can even text the Red Cross my donation of $10, long-distance and texting fees notwithstanding! And then I can retreat to my rapacious comfort more quickly than a stock can rise or fall.
The chronicles of avarice in the marketplace, the schemes and buyouts and leveraged loans that loosed the Bear, have left many not with a certain future but with the shadows that once reflected dreams in the S&P. And what have they to show for it now? Well, what the name suggests for many is just that: standard and poor.
But we do have hope. There is certainly hope. I think of the many young men and women I meet who are not "about money," instead yearning for a safer, cleaner, fairer world and giving themselves to that hope.
I think of the retiree who can afford any luxury vehicle on the market, and elects to drive a compact hybrid as an act of both ecological awareness and stewardship so she can be generous to others.
I think of the couple that sees the wonders of retirement in modesty, in each other, in family, and not in status or square footage.
I think of Jesus, who will not be refused ultimately, holding before all the riches that matter eternally.
Might we pray? "God of Grace, Lord of Mercy, forgive me my sin of wanting and possessing, and replace my selfish greed with a heart of generosity and thankfulness. Loose me from the desires that I satisfy with my greed, replacing it with a desire for fellowship with you and a humble love for others. Savior, save me from my false idols, and help me replace them with the daily desire to be your servant. Nothing more, nothing else will do to make me truly happy and to live in your peace. Amen."