July 2016 Print

Mamon Said . . .

by a Priest (from Fideliter, No.229, pp.14-16)

It isn’t easy for a Christian to remain free from the influence of money. To illustrate this difficulty, here is the fictitious story of a family father who has not yet succeeded. The articles that follow will offer him some paths he could take.

He is a good Catholic. He is an executive and earns a good living. And it’s a good thing, too, for there are mouths to feed at home. He has often meditated on Our Lord’s words: “You cannot serve two masters, God and Mammon.” This morning he sets off for a typical day of work.

He begins the day with his little morning ritual: a quote from the Bible on one of his cell phone applications. Today the quote reads, “For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.” He immediately follows this reading with a quick look at his bank account on his My Online Banking application. Rent has to be paid tomorrow, and he needs to make sure how much money is there; after checking, he finds pretty much the same amount as there is every month: he has not yet started saving up. But let’s be honest: he checks his account even when he is not expecting any transactions… This little habit allows him to give thanks to God on the 25th of every month. For a quote from Scripture that inspired him? No, because it’s his payday: Alleluia!

Stopped on his way to the office by a red light next to a little shop, he smiles inside at all those modest people he sees doing the same thing every day: buying lottery tickets that have them dreaming of winning a fortune. What madness to waste so much money on mirages! But his thoughts quickly darken as he remembers how he himself pursued like a Holy Grail the bonus promised by his manager, justifying workdays that lasted long into the night for over a month! And that to the detriment of his family life. But it’s the crisis: the eagerly awaited bonus was never paid. Was it such a very different ambition? Was it really reasonable? Just then, the radio reporter announces: the top regret in the office world is to have chosen one’s profession for the wrong reasons, that is, for money and not passion. If even the radio starts at it…

Arrival at work. He has his system down. He summons the suppliers all at the same time and has them placed in different rooms. Then he goes from room to room: “I got this price, can you offer me better?” The competing suppliers obviously do not all have the same level of services to offer, but he always quotes the lowest offer. Put on the spot, it is impossible for them to get their bearings--but he doesn’t lie to them. It’s just that this simple competition forces them to come up with a new offer on the spot. Do they run the risk of making a losing deal? They’ll make up for it somehow. This overwhelming competition is everywhere: why should he take offense at it? Everyone runs after profit. He himself has to put up with Oliver, who nags the entire floor, wanting to know their bonuses and yearly raises to compare them with his own without letting them know his own level. He doesn’t lose his temper and considers himself all but heroic for it.

Next he turns to the other matter of the day that he needs to take care of: these thefts at the office. He spends his time buying ink cartridges, as if the service printed The Encyclopedia Britannica every day! But he has an idea: he plans to buy a top of the line model that costs several thousand dollars: surely none of the employees will have that model at home and the cartridges will stop disappearing. His brother-in-law, who gave him the idea, assured him that with the savings made on the thefts the investment had paid off for him in less than a year. And this situation does not revolt him: isn’t fraud everywhere? Don’t companies themselves cheat? His company, like all the companies in the country, is taxed on the rate of work accidents for the year. How is it that certain companies that work in risky sectors and at night--which increases the risk--never declare any accidents? Would it be to keep their taxes down? After all, it is not up to him to work out all the world’s injustices.

While it is not very fulfilling, his work has the advantage of providing him with a security that he did not have before when he was self-employed. And that on every level: when they got married, Jane did not understand at first why he opted for separate property, and took it as a lack of trust. He reassured her: this choice was only a way of protecting her if he were to go bankrupt. And he did not regret his choice when that very cross was sent his way.

Return home after his day of work. A quick hello to his wife and finally he can relax! Internet. Paul is chasing Louis and shouting in the apartment (which is too small, but it is a house with a yard and reasonable commutes; it’s like a dream, given the prices of real estate--and of gas); Francis just upset his sister’s puzzle, and now she is screaming. The last thing he feels like doing is getting up; he just needs to shut the door. Doesn’t he already do enough earning money every month with his work? But he recovers quickly from this hasty and unjust thought: taking care of the children, the grocery shopping, the time spent running the house: the needs of the home are not only measured in dollars-- and Jane, who stays at home, has her fair share to do.

Besides, his attention is diverted by what he has been impatiently awaiting: the price of the high-quality race bike he has had his eye on for a long time has dropped even lower! Two days ago, a categorical “no” from his wife: still too expensive despite the 50% off. But now the price is really good. A quick check with his wife, who says “yes.” A minute later, a huge smile: the bike is bought! Already? Yes, the greatly desired prize has been in his shopping cart for a month now waiting for her to consent; it only takes thirty seconds to get the credit card number out! Jane doesn’t dare say anything: didn’t she give in to the temptation of trying “shopping therapy,” which she afterward regretted when she saw the uselessness of what she had bought in too great haste? But it is so easy to give in on the Internet: no time to think… Besides, after dinner, it will be time to bring up the subject that has her preoccupied: yet another financial dilemma, but a little more serious. Paul and Louis are getting bigger and they are asking for certain activities she thinks would be good for them: learning an instrument at school would be a good way to teach them beauty. But first there is the private school tuition to pay, and government aid to families has dropped so much in the past five years: is the week at the ski resort going to have to be sacrificed?

Another little ritual every evening (he is not obsessive, just precise): reading an article from The Angelus that encourages the practice of the spirit of poverty in this world ruled by money. At the end of the article, he marks his page with a little insert delivered with this edition: a call for donations for the construction of a monastery…

Night prayers, then examination of conscience. Of what spirit am I? What were the dominant preoccupations of my day? Oh, that St. Ignatius can be disagreeable!