The harshest form of covetousness is not even to give things perishable to those who need them. “But whom do I treat unjustly,” you say, “by keeping what is my own?” Tell me, what is your own? What did you bring into this life? From where did you receive it? It is as if someone were to take the first seat in the theater, then bar everyone else from attending, so that one person alone enjoys what is offered for the benefit of all-this is what the rich do. They first take possession of the common property, and then they keep it as their own because they were the first to take it. But if every man took only what sufficed for his own need, and left the rest to the needy, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, no one would be in need.
Did you not fall naked from the womb? Will you not go back naked to the earth? Where is your present property from? If you think that it came to you by itself, you don’t believe in God, you don’t acknowledge the creator and you are not thankful to Him who gave it to you. But if you agree and confess that you have it from God, tell us the reason why He gave it to you.
Is God unjust, dividing unequally the goods of this life? Why are you rich, while the other is poor? Isn’t it, if for no other reason, so that you can gain a reward for your kindness and faithful stewardship, and for him to be honored with the great virtue of patience? But you, having gathered everything inside the empty bosom of avarice, do you think that you wrong no one, while you rob so many people?
Who is the greedy person? It’s him, who doesn’t content himself with what he has. And who the thief? He who steals what belongs to others. And you think that you are not greedy, and that you do not rob others? What had been granted to you so that you might care for others, you claim for yourself.
He who strips a man of his clothes is to be called a thief. Is not he who, when he is able, fails to clothe the naked, worthy of no other title? The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.
- St. Basil the GreatServing the poor is not optional; Christ himself commanded it. Seldom do I hear service to the poor couched in the terms that St. Basil used. These days the parish and the diocese have a committee for social justice where the school kids can get those bothersome community service hours out of the way before they graduate from CCD at their Confirmation. As the old Latin American joke goes, when the Church opted for the poor, the poor opted for the Pentecostals.
Christ said that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that flows from the mouth of God. He commended Martha for her service (Martha traditionally represents the active life) but said that Mary chose the better way (contemplation.) An apostolic laborer who does not devote any time to contemplation and prayer becomes a mere secular do-gooder. If Catholicism only means being a nice guy who volunteers at the soup kitchen once in a while, then it won't take the people long to figure out that they don't need to be Catholic or even to believe in God to be nice guys who volunteer at the soup kitchen once in a while. Our apostolates, whatever it is we do, must be rooted in a solid spiritual life and prayer.