Healthy detachment

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time .

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The Old Testament prophets spent a great deal of time and effort calling people away from idolatry, the worship of false gods such as Baal. It was a recurrent temptation in those days and it is still very much a temptation in our own times, especially the idolatry of created reality and most notably the idolatry of money.

According to the traditional definition used in Economics, money is a mean of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value but it also tends to obscure reality. Economists speak of a “monetary veil,” an illusion that distorts the true nature of a transaction, leading people to think that what is simply a mean of exchange is valuable in itself. Of course, that phenomenon, problematic as it was for the formulation of Economic policy was somewhat easier to understand and deal with when the instruments used had intrinsic value, were valuable in themselves. In our age of “fiat money”, where the instrument does not have any intrinsic value, but is simply a piece of paper or a unit of account, it is even more of a problem because it introduces even greater distortions in transactions, altering decisions of producers, consumers and the formulation of economic policy.

Money is nothing more and nothing less than a mean of exchange, an instrument that enables us to overcome the absence of a double coincidence of wants and needs. Because of specialization and division of labor in modern society, it is hardly ever the case that what I need and somebody else has can be traded for what I have or can offer in exchange. Money’s function as a store of value is related to this primary function, since savings enable consumption of goods and services in future. Current and future income will go either to finance current consumption or future consumption.

This mean of exchange, that in our times is not valuable at all in itself, but only because we all agree that can be exchanged for goods and services worth the value printed on it and the government forces us to accept as “legal tender for all debts public and private”, tends to acquire a life of its own and oftentimes even ends up enslaving us. The stern warning of the Lord in the fragment of the Sermon on the Mount proclaimed this Sunday makes a lot sense, even from the point of view of Economics. Of course, that should not surprise us, Jesus is the Lord of science too. Human science, to the extent that it is faithful to itself and not ideology masquerading as science, is a search for ultimate truth or a truthful explanation of the universe and nature according to its own method and object and, therefore, compatible and even complementary with Christian revelation.

Our attitude towards money and to all of created reality for that matter ought to be one of healthy detachment. We must be the masters of the goods at our disposal, not its servants nor its slaves. Thus, the Lord’s warning and His exhortation to trust in divine providence and avoid the pitfalls of money and wealth, lest we forget that we are beloved children of God, transcendent beings called to communion with Him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains in the following terms what providence is: “We call “divine providence” the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection: By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made…

The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God’s absolute sovereignty over the course of events…

And so we see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes. This is not a “primitive mode of speech”, but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him…

God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan.

To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of “subduing” the earth and having dominion over it. God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God’s will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers and their sufferings. They then fully become “God’s fellow workers” and co-workers for his kingdom.

The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Far from diminishing the creature’s dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God’s power, wisdom and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for “without a Creator the creature vanishes.” Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God’s grace.”

The Sermon on the Mount not only gives a roadmap to happiness, it invites us to childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father and to actively cooperate with it, avoiding any form of idolatry, cultivating a healthy detachment from material goods, lest they become our masters. We are to commit ourselves and apply every means at our disposal to seek and to build the Kingdom of God already present in our midst but not yet fully manifest.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid