In the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) gave a rousing speech to the stockholders of Teldar Paper:
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed - for lack of a better word - is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms - greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.
Our society promotes the cultural sin of covetousness. Regrettably, because of our fascination with wealth, our economy has been sustained by buying things we don't need, with money that we don't have.
Furthermore, the logic of the consumer society is fundamentally at odds with the teaching of Jesus. The relentless pressure of advertising tells us that “there is never enough” and that you should “worry” constantly about what you eat and drink, what you wear, whether your future is secure, and more. They say, “Please worry all the time!” But Jesus said exactly the opposite. “Don’t worry! - Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of London, notes: “Increasingly, we have moved to talking about efficiency (how to get what you want) and therapy (how not to feel bad about what you want). What is common to both is that they have more to do with the mentality of marketing (the stimulation and satisfaction of desire) than of morality (what we ought to desire)”.
Markets are by their very nature transactional, not moral. They are about prices, not values.
In our Catholic tradition greed or avarice is one of the seven capital sins (CCC # 1866). Greed is a vice and not a virtue; and it takes the market’s focus on self-interest way too far. The Catholic religious tradition is founded not on greed but on generosity and sacrificial giving.
From the beginning of time, God has given humankind the gifts of life and unconditional love and one day saw fit to give the sacrificial gift of an only Son, Jesus. Jesus gave his own life for us on the cross. He set an example for us of giving unconditionally and of sacrificing so that others might live. We walk in the footsteps of Christ when we give sacrificially a part of our substance so that others might live.
Everything we have is a gift from God. In gratitude for God’s generosity, we dedicate a portion of these gifts—our time, talent and money—to furthering God’s Kingdom.
If we truly believe that God gives us all that we have, gratitude is one response. Trust is another. When we realize that God has provided for us and will continue to do so, we recognize that our real security lies in God. Our God, who has given us all, will take care of our future.
There are five elements of sacrificial giving:
- It is planned:
The decision to give is just that—a decision. It requires thought and time, so that it is integrated with other financial decisions as part of a careful, intentional response to God’s generosity. Unless we consciously incorporate the amount of our giving into our regular budget, it becomes an optional expense and may be lost in the financial shuffle. Planning our giving enables us to give of the first fruits rather than some amount left over.
- It is proportionate:
Our giving should be proportionate or commensurate to what God has given us. Most people use the biblical concept of the tithe, a tenth, as a guide. In any case, our gift should reflect our level of gratefulness to God. How much should you give? Start with an assessment of your level of giving now. Most of us are dismayed to discover how little that is. There is no magic number that represents the “right” amount but the proportion you choose should be sacrificial and truly commensurate to what God has given you.
- It is sacrificial:
Our proportionate gift becomes sacrificial when it comes from our substance rather than our abundance. When we give out of our substance, we are changed in the process. We have given away something we thought we needed for ourselves, thus changing our lifestyle. We have acted on our belief that our security lies not in our material resources but in God. The element of sacrifice is present when something about your life has to change in order for you to be able to give the gift. You re-order your priorities, you reconsider your values. And every time you give the gift, you are reminded of the reasons why you have chosen to give.
- It is a prayer of thanksgiving:
Our gifts are most appropriately presented at the Offertory of the Mass. The celebration of Christ’s sacrifice is a fitting context for our own sacrificial offering which is a grateful response to the unfathomable love God has shown for us. In the offering, we can express our joy in having received and in being able to give.
- It is a gift:
No gift is truly a gift unless it is given freely without reservation or condition. The gifts of God are given to us in just such an unconditional manner, and we are called to model our giving after God’s. Sacrificial Giving doesn’t buy anything. It doesn’t buy happiness or love or a tenfold return on our investment. The motive for giving a sacrificial gift is not the expectation of getting something back. We are able to give what we give because God has already given to us.
"acrifice, surrender, and suffering are not a popular topic nowadays. Our culture makes us believe that we can have it all … that with the right technology all pain and problems can be overcome. This is not my attitude toward sacrifice. I know that it is impossible to relieve the world’s suffering unless God’s people are willing to surrender to God, to make sacrifices, and to suffer along with the poor. From the beginning of time, the human heart has felt the need to offer God a sacrifice.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
☩ Frederick Henry