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POPE’S MESSAGE | Greed is ‘a sickness of the heart’ that takes away freedom

At audience Jan. 24, the pope discussed the vice of greed and encouraged storing up treasures in heaven, not on earth

VATICAN CITY — It is easy to believe one is the master of everything one owns, Pope Francis said, but often the opposite happens and one’s possessions “take possession of us.”

“This is what misers do not understand. They could have been a source of blessing to many, but instead they have slipped into the blind alley of wretchedness,” the pope said Jan. 24 at his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

Continuing a series of audience talks about vices and virtues, the pope reflected on the vice of avarice or greed, which is a sin and “a sickness of the heart, not of the wallet,” he said.

Greed is not only a “form of attachment to money that prevents people from generosity,” he said, it can be seen in an exaggerated attachment to even insignificant objects.

Objects can become a kind of fetish that is impossible to let go of, reflecting “a sort of regression to the state of children who clutch their toy repeating, ‘It’s mine! It’s mine!’”

It is a kind of attachment that “takes away your freedom,” the pope said. “There lurks a disordered relationship with reality, which can result in forms of compulsive hoarding and pathological accumulation.”

The reason for the “folly of avarice,” he said, is “an attempt to exorcize the fear of death: It seeks securities that in reality crumble the very moment we hold them in our hand.”

In fact, he said, ancient monks proposed one way to heal from this sickness was to meditate on death.

“However much a person accumulates goods in this world, of one thing we can be absolutely sure: They will not enter the coffin with us,” he said.

“The bond of possession we create with objects is only apparent, because we are not the masters of the world: This earth that we love is in truth not ours, and we move about it like strangers and pilgrims,” he said.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal,” Pope Francis said.

When possessions take possession of people, he said, people are no longer free because “they no longer even have the time to rest, they have to look over their shoulder because the accumulation of goods also demands their safekeeping.”

“They are always anxious because a patrimony is built with a great deal of sweat but can disappear in a moment,” he added.

The Gospel does not claim that riches are a sin in themselves, the pope said, “but they are certainly a liability.”

“Let’s be careful and be generous with everyone, generous to those who are most in need,” he said.

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