This weekend, the Lenten journey continues but lightens up with “Rejoice Sunday,” often called by its Latin name Laetare Sunday. The observance gives Christian believers a reminder of the glory of the Easter celebration that awaits them at the end of Lent.
Rejoice Sunday is a consolation, but also a call to perseverance through the soul-searching and self-accusation of the Lenten season.
It’s a summons to keep our focus on the ways of God and to keep pride, vanity, and greed at bay.
These three ‘bad spirits’ were identified by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his monumental seventeenth century work The Spiritual Exercises. In the Exercises, which have drastically shaped the spiritual worldview of Pope Francis, believers are called to a sober examination of their consciences.
Among the dark spirits, they are to search for greed. Where has greed distorted reality, manipulated truth, coerced sinful actions, or compromised virtue and a desire to follow the ways of God?
As we desire the joys of Easter, we have to explore and dig out greed. Greed can pertain to our faith, love, forgiveness, time, abilities, and our finances.
While each area needs to be examined, we must especially assess our finances since they reveal so much about us. If we want to know what we love, we just have to look at what we spend our money on.
And so, the review begins. Where do we spend our money and why? In our spending, do we tithe to our faith community, to the poor, and to others in need? Does our spending seem to revolve only around us, our interests, and our well-being?
This can be a difficult assessment and can even provoke defensiveness from people. Very few people like to talk about their money, and practically no one likes being asked about it. In Western culture, finances have become the new Holy of Holies: Removed, untouchable, and inviolate. But is this state of affairs in tune with the examination called for by Lent? Should our finances be above reproach?
Throughout the Bible, no one person spoke more about money than Jesus of Nazareth, and he spoke in a challenging and provocative way about it.
He praised the sacrificial generosity of the widow’s mite and announced salvation to the chief tax-collector Zacchaeus when he resolved to generously pay back and compensate those he had cheated and to give to the poor.
The Lord called the Rich Young Man to give away his wealth to the poor and to follow him completely, and he chastised the money changers when they took financial advantage of the pilgrims in the Temple. Jesus warned the rich about their salvation, and called his followers to generosity and a simplicity of life.
In fact, based on these teachings of the Lord, we could say that money is the Church’s oldest sacramental. Such a designation would be justified since our spending of money is a visible sign of what we cherish invisibly, namely, within our hearts.
Money discloses a lot. It indicates our priorities and exposes our lip service. It unmasks lies, and unveils false charity. Nothing is more honest than a budget, whether it’s personal or institutional.
If we talk a lot about the poor, but spend little on them, we’re living an untruth. If a faith community talks the talk about social justice but spends little on such efforts, then it’s performing a well-crafted play with a beautiful script but really doing nothing.
On higher church levels, how many bishops spoke great speeches about outreach to married people and families during the recent Synods on the Family, but looking at their diocesan websites, we find no money spent and no such local efforts (or attempts at efforts) to actualize their well-crafted synodal interventions?
Money cuts through good intentions, scrambles circumstances, and shows us – whether we like it or not – what we really value and where we truly stand.
Greed is a part of this equation. It equivocates on behalf of our preferences, gives double-talk to justify our interests, and willingly gives a false credibility to our own ego. Greed is a liar, deceptive, and the first thing it bloats is our own soul.
Lent calls us to identify where greed is hiding within us and to cast it out. It cleans up our distractions and draws our attention to the common good. Lent leads us to generosity and an integrity of life and Christian discipleship.