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Word Magazine February 1964 Page 6-7
By Fr. Theodore Ziton
When a certain Persian King was sad, his advisors told him that he would find happiness if he were to wear the shirt of a perfectly happy man. The King then sent out his secret police to find such a happy man and bring him to the palace. After a long search they found a beggar who seemed to be the happiest man in the country. When they brought him before the King, they took off his dilapidated coat, but they found he had no shirt.
Riches do not necessarily secure happiness. A man diseased in body can have little joy in his wealth, be it ever so great. A golden crown cannot cure his headache, nor a velvet slipper ease his rheumatism, or a purple robe subdue a burning fever. A sick man is sick wherever you lay him, whether it be on a bed of gold or on a pad of straw. Even though the wealthy person has excellent health, he is not happy because he craves for more wealth. If he has million, he lacks other millions and craves for them. If he has thousands, he lacks other thousands. When a man has a chicken in the pot, he wants a goose; when be has a goose, he wants a turkey. Wealth to a rich man is like salt water, the more he drinks of it, the thirstier he becomes.
Life is a great believer in compensations. Those to whom she sends wealth, she saddles them with burdens, lawsuits and dyspepsia. Poverty may have its train of cares and toils but wealth is never without its nightmare. As every flame has its smoke, and as every rose has its thorns, so every glorious and flourishing prosperity has its clouds of troubles and its bouquets of thorns. The moth sticks to the richest garments; the worm creeps into the heart of the fairest flowers and fruits; likewise, the moth of worry and the worm of anxiety eat away the lives of many wealthy people.
The blessings of a peaceful heart and mind are not derived from riches. We see the wealth a person possesses, and we envy him; but if we were to see how little he enjoys it, we would rather pity him.
Without the example of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, poverty, with all its hardships and privations, would be a bitter medicine to take. What great misery the world would undergo if it had no faith in Him Who said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit cannot forget or overlook the sublime and all-embracing reality that they are the heirs of eternal bliss. They toil and suffer and are humiliated for a little space of life, but in due time they will be forever happy.
Life may seem hard to you because your poverty pinches, but remember, you are in glorious company. Our Blessed Lord did not own the house in which He stopped, or the colt on which He rode, or the boat in which He sailed. He lived in a borrowed house; he was buried in a borrowed grave. Exposed to all kinds of weather, He had no change of clothes. He breakfasted in the morning, and no one could possibly tell where He could get anything to eat before night. In modern times He would be pronounced a financial failure, for He had to perform a miracle to obtain money in order to pay a tax bill. Not a dollar did He own. The kings of earth had golden chalices out of which to drink, but the King of heaven had to drink out of cupped hands.
Many people who lived in constant dread of poverty, thinking that they might some day be stranded on the shore of misery, have been astonished to find the sun shining more brightly and the birds singing more sweetly than when they were prosperous. Depressions of nations have taught many how to live, and brought joy to their hearts.
Wealth and progress do not usually go hand in hand. The men who have caught this circling planet in the palms of their hands were born poor and struggled in adversity. The men who have throttled the fiery lightning, and tamed the fire and water into willing servitude, were born of poor parents. Those who have led millions of people to the feet of Christ were poor like the Divine Master. Those who produced masterpieces in literature, art and music were those who starved in garrets and died in cellars. Wealth has done far more to stifle genius than poverty did.
A distinguished man lay on his death-bed, when a great mark of distinction and honor was brought to him. Turning a cold glance on the treasure he would once have clutched with an eager grasp, he said with a sigh, “This is a fine treasure in this world, but I am going to a country where it will be of no use to me.
We bring nothing into the world, and we can carry nothing out, except the treasures of our good works. As far as this world’s riches are concerned, we must die as we were born, in utter helplessness and poverty. How can we struggle and toil and distract our hearts from the great purpose of life, simply to gather about us the possessions which, though they may be fine things in this world, will be of no use to us in the world to come!
Some people have an idolatrous worship for money. The Israelites had their golden calf; the Greeks had their golden Jupiter; our modern age has its hero-worship for the millionaire. “What is he worth?” “What is his income?” are the usual questions asked. If you say, “That man is a thoroughly religious and virtuous person,” no one will notice him. But if you say, “Here comes a man worth a million dollars,” everyone will stare at him till he goes out of sight. The very sound of millions tickle the ears of a person.
As soon as our young people are well started towards adult life, they begin to crave for money. They hear so much about money, using money, investing money, making money, that they get the impression a man is worth a lot of money simply because he has a lot of money. The desire to have money so possesses some people that they regard it as the one thing necessary in life. But they forget that our penitentiaries are filled with those who crazed with the notion that money is the only thing even if criminally obtained.
Money, no doubt, is a power, but a power of narrow limits. It can purchase plenty, but not peace of heart or mind; it can furnish you with a table of luxuries, but not with a good appetite to enjoy them. It can surround your bed with physicians, but it cannot restore you to health. It can pay some debts, but if the money is tainted, it cannot pay the debt to the law of God. It can relieve some fears, but not those of guilt and the terrors of a strick judgment. Even in this world the most valuable things are those which riches cannot procure — respect, sympathy, happiness, and peace.
When we see so many people who are unhappy, we are reminded of King Midas. He had such a greed for wealth that he asked the god Bacchus for the power that whatever he touched would turn into gold. The request was granted, but when the very food the king was about to eat turned to gold, he soon entreated Bacchus to recall the fatal privilege. We are told that the wealthy ancients used to dissolve pearls in wine to heal their maladies, but we are not told that they were any better for the costly medicine.
We must assign all things to their proper place, and remember that the center of human progress is in moral growth. We are good citizens of the country and faithful children of God, not by the number of goods or pleasures that we procure for ourselves, but by the solidity of our moral fiber. And this, after all, is not a truth of today, but a truth of all times. Whatever our state of life is, we are traveling to the same goal which is heaven, and the wise traveler will not lose himself in the crossways, or load himself with useless burdens.
The foulest act that was ever committed in the world, was done for money — the betraying of Christ.
It is often a great misfortune to have a fortune, and it is not a misfortune to miss a fortune. People search the land and seas to find it; men are eager to marry it; women are willing to sacrifice their honor for it. Because of riches, health is sacrificed and morality is flung away.
After the avaricious person reaches his goal, he finds that the race was not worth winning. He catches eagerly at the branch laden with fruit, and finds that it bears apples of the Dead Sea —apples which fill his mouth with bitterness. After he puts on his spectacles of success, he suspects every person who approaches him. He looks into friends’ motives and finds that every plausible person is ready to make an attack upon his purse. His features become narrowed; his eyes shrink; his smile, when he has one, hardens; his language lacks poetry and warmth; his letters to a friend dwindle down to a telegraphic dispatch.
Prosperity most usually makes a person proud, insolent, forgetful of God and all duties to Him. It cools the heart, and extinguishes the desire to practice the virtues. Noah who had seen the whole world drowned in the deluge, landed safe on shore, but in the midst of plenty, he forgot God and drowned himself in wine. Prosperity can easily become a secret traitor; like Judas it can betray with a kiss.
Riches may be a blessing or a curse, according to the state of our minds. A glass of water refreshes a healthy person, but it only increases the thirst of one afflicted with dropsy. A moderate desire of prosperity is placed in our hearts by God, and it is the stimulus to diligence and progress. But we have to guard against the abuse of it, just as the master of a vessel, when the ship has all the canvas set, and is going with full sail before the wind, has minced to look out that the vessel does not run upon a rock. A person making money fast is a man in a wind of dust; it will fill his eyes and cool his heart if he is not careful. When St. Peter warmed his hands, he cooled his heart.
As we stand on the mountain of prosperity, we should see farther than the person in the valley. The greater our advantages are, the wiser we should be. Therefore, having a clear vision, we should perceive better the difference between things temporal and spiritual.
Money in itself is not the root of all evil, rather it is the love or abuse of money that makes it filthy lucre. It must be remembered that the best things are often most abused. Appetite is a good thing; it is the source of innocent pleasure and is given to us for the support of our lives, and yet it is often most fearfully abused. Good things placed in bad hands become the occasions of great evils. It is the men themselves who are at fault. They are greedy and selfish, and if there were no money, they would find something else to hoard. It is most necessary to distinguish between money and the love for it, between its use and abuse, between making it the servant of good aims or becoming its slave. A poor man can be as avaricious over his pennies as a rich man over his millions; it is a question not of possessions but of temper.
Money is essential to the development and welfare of mankind. While it is not bread, it is the great agency of the bringing bread to the world. Money is not education, culture or progress, yet all of these largely depend upon it.
Money is necessary, and it is wrong to say that we should despise it. The guilt lies not in the use of money, but in its abuse. The greatest pile of gold can become the source of countless blessings if that pile, like the woman’s box of ointment, is poured out for the sweet refreshment of Jesus Christ in his distressed members.