Greed: A Meditation on an Underreported Sin

One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.

But honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!

Almost never would such a thought even occur to the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and if we get more we want more still. This is the experience of greed.

Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. Greed is always something that other guy has.

Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other car we could be driving. And so even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.

This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is a deep drive of sin, one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for true needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.

No, it’s the other guy who’s greedy; I’m not. It’s a problem that those nasty rich and powerful people have. Never mind that I’m pretty darned rich myself, living in a home with running water, air conditioning, and maybe even luxuries like granite countertops and widescreen TVs.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on greed? If you did, it was probably the priest talking about some abstract group of people (not those present, of course) who probably also hold the “wrong” political opinions, etc. Yes, greed is always someone else’s problem.

When do I honestly look at myself and wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? I do understand that it’s good to have something laid up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?

I realize that some of you who read this post will find it disturbing. So do I. These are uncomfortable questions.

Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I can or should earn, and how much I can or should give away. I am referring to a very personal moral assessment that we all should make.

I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs. But still, I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. Somewhere there’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.

11 Replies to “Greed: A Meditation on an Underreported Sin”

  1. Greed is more practical than that. Think: when someone gets a little bit more money than usual, or finds some loose change, which is the usual thought?

    1) I will give this to the needy, they would surely love it
    2) I will buy more than I usually do, just to treat myself
    3) I will keep this money for later, for I might need it

    Hardly ever 1. Maybe 3. But most often 2. Such is a practical or subtle greed. Prudence saves money, justice rewards good, but love is so selfless that it says “What right to justice do I have to treat myself? Why save an excess when I can give it to those who have nothing, who would surely be happier with it!”

  2. I feel greedy with a win at a slot machine and just know there is more to be won and usually end up losing it all.

  3. Thank you Msgr Charles. It would not be proper for me to discuss what I ‘personally’ try to do in my everyday life to combat the temptation to greed – although I ‘do’ have a personal strategy which I hope works – most of the time!
    However, suffice it to say that, as Fr Charles says, it is something which affects all of us at some time – if not a ‘lot’ of the time!! And – it is something which is certainly on my mind and thoughts as and when I might (occasionally!) have ‘a bit to spare’ – money or time – and in deciding what I should do with it. Especially as I very probably already have far too much more than I personally ‘need’!!
    It is because I happen to think that this great meditation above is not only vitally important in itself, but also because an earlier blog of Msgr Charles, on 28th April this year, seems to me to be equally important, as it is the next step on from coming to terms with the problem of greed in our lives, I would, with Msgr Charles’ approval, like to respectfully refer you back to that – and here is the link:
    It’s very short – but very to the point. DO read it – and then let’s pray about both meditations, that they may become very real in all our lives.
    God bless all.

  4. In our exurban community, we see pole barns for storing stuff. In more densely populated areas, we see storage units for rent for storing stuff. You are right, Msgr. I will take inventory of out stuff to see what we really need. Good post. Thank you.

  5. I’ve been reading a book by Rene Girard in which he ties greed to the commandments about covetousness. If I understand him he says that greed is always sparked by looking at another rather than looking at Jesus. (I haven’t finished the book so I might have mis characterized it.)

  6. Interesting and difficult reflection. It is always hard to answer this but there is a helpful take on it in St Francis DeSales work “Introduction to the Devout life”, chapter 14 and 15. It basically discusses holiness for those who are “rich” which arguably would be most people in the US. At least from St Francis DeSales point of view given that even a cell phone would be virtually an incomprehensible miracle in his time. In any case while I can not do it justice, the basic theme is that those of us with wealth must be using that wealth to do good. This does not mean only alms giving (which is obviously part of doing good of course) but entails using it to help others more broadly, So if you use your wealth to start a new enterprise with the view to providing others job opportunity or you invite guests who could not afford a vacation an opportunity to rent your country cottage at nominal price for a bargain you could arguably be using your wealth charitably. On the other hand if you have just purchased your 3rd sports car, maybe not.. Of course its always a temptation to say that you are certainly using your wealth generously and maybe just rationalizing your over consumption, but the chapter in St Francis’s work are helpful and written close enough to our time that the advice seems applicable.

    1. Agreed. Also hopefully most of us are familiar with the Catechism regarding stewardship. It’s brilliant and transformative.

  7. GREED drives abortion. It is the pharmaceutical industry that profits from the infanticide.

    GREED drives the LGBT [agenda]. It is the Entertainment & pornography industries that profit from profaning God’s Image & Likeness.

    GREED drives the destruction of environments. It is the Mining industry that profits from the ruin of God’s Creation, peoples & nature.


  8. For all you folks who don’t know Veggietales, the video Madam Blueberry is all about this. It’s made for kids, but it has a lesson for us all.

  9. If God gives us our daily bread then we should always be happy to help those who come within our personal sphere. My personal sphere is not the whole Earth. I can attempt to grasp the total reality of 7.5 billion lives, but soon recoil. The lives of my own family and neighbours is daunting enough, and even when they are poor, it is not money that brings them comfort, but faith that keeps on even through dark times. The parable of the Good Samaritan says it all – – – the opportunity to do the right thing was concrete and visible. The enemies of the Church also have a catholic plan – heaven on this earth – their way.

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