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Cultivating a Corrosion-Free Spirit


“But the good deed, through the ages living in historic pages, brighter grows and gleams immortal, unconsumed by moth or rust.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Upon listening to the beginning of the 5th Chapter of James’ Letter this morning at Daily Mass (James 5:1-6), one got the distinct impression that our author was engaging in what the teenagers in our midst might call a little bit of “trash talking.” The corrupt and greedy, those who sell out for the treasures of the world while forsaking fairness and charity, are squarely in his crosshairs as he taunts them, showing no sympathy in the process

“Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire.”

Despite how often the following adage is misquoted, and it frequently is, the fact of the matter is money is not the root of all evil. An inordinate or intrinsically disordered love of money is. As writer Israelmore Ayivor puts it “Money is a necessity, but not the determinant of a successful life. It is there to secure you, but not to save you. It is there to support you, but not to sanctify you.”

James goes on to call out those who unfairly benefit at the direct expense of others by way of financial exploitation as he proclaims “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reach the ears of the Lord of hosts.” This haunting warning, meant for everyone from Charles Ponzi to Bernie Madoff to the mega-corporations and their spokespeople who exploit slave labor for outlandish profit, affords us too the opportunity to reflect upon our own business dealings and the way we conduct ourselves in the workplace.

Founder of the Opus Dei Movement Saint Josemaria Escriva was a tireless proponent of evangelization by way of the workplace. He summed up this message as follows: “Those who want to live their faith fully and do apostolate according to the spirit of Opus Dei must sanctify themselves with their work, sanctify their work, and sanctify others through their work.” Because of the moral decay that had begun to creep into many professional practices during his lifetime, Saint Josemaria knew that it was increasingly necessary to clearly explain the basic moral rules that are a condition for a particular activity to be carried out.

Larceny, intellectual theft of a co-worker’s idea, falsification of paperwork, embezzling, the leveraging of interoffice politics and gossip to further one’s career; these were but a few of the illicit tactics and behaviors that, as Saint Josemaria put it, “de-professionalize” the aspiring Christian, sabotaging his or her efforts to evangelize by way of how they conduct their affairs in the workplace.

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In stark contrast to the avarice, materialism and selfishness that James warns us against in today 1st Reading is Jesus’ promise in our Gospel (Mark 9:41-50). Whereas we live in a world that values opulence, prestige and status, the Son of God, the very Creator of every coveted luxury that man has ever lusted for, has a radically different message:

“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, surely will not lose his reward.”

Herein lies today’s teaching. Charity goes with us to the grave, to the judgment seat if you will. In this case, a mere cup of water to a fellow disciple pleases the King of Kings. Hoarding, keeping and “having” do not. In fact, this corrosion as James calls it (5:3), will be a testament or an indictment against us on the day of judgment.

With Ash Wednesday less than a week away, now is an opportune time to re-set our sights on that which is lasting, to recalibrate our eternal profit and loss statements so to speak

I leave you with the words of the incomparable G.K. Chesterton, who had this to say on matters pertaining to avarice and the reckless pursuit of that which is doing to be moth-eaten and corroded: “Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.”

“This is the way of those whose trust is folly, the end of those contented with their lot: Like sheep they are herded into the nether world; death is their shepherd and the upright rule over them.” ~ Psalm 49

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