A good way of preparing for this Sunday’s Gospel, about the man who tore down his barns in order to build bigger ones for the abundant harvest he was about to reap, would be to read the annual report of Caritas Internationalis. In the first sentence of his Preface, Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, President of Caritas Internationalis, sets out one of the scandalous facts: 

This is a world where about 300 children die every hour from malnutrition and where nearly a billion people have no access to clean water. At the same time, there are over 1200 billionaires in the world, the highest number ever recorded.

Several of the Fathers of the Church and medieval theologians after them indicted the foolish man for the very fact that he anticipated having more than he would be able to store. That would not have been a problem, they said, if he had done what he should have done: distribute his wealth to the poor and needy. Some examples from from St. Basil the Great’s homily on this parable:

Consider yourself, who you are, what resources have been entrusted to you, from whom you received them, and why your received more than others. You have been mad a minister of God’s goodness, a steward of your fellow servants. Do not suppose that all this was furnished for your own gullet. Resolve to treat the things in your possession as belonging to others. ...

Let the example of the rich man who is under examination accompany you everywhere. By keeping what he already had, while at the same time endeavoring to gain even cmore, he committed tomorrow’s sins today. No suppliant had yet approached, but he showed his cruelty in advance. He had not yet gathered his harvest, yet he was already found guilty of avarice. The earth was welcoming all to its richness; it germinated the crops deep in the furrows, produced large clusters of rapes on the vine, makde the live tree bend under a vast quantitty of fruti, and offered every deliciaous varieity of the frtuir tree. But the rich man was unwelcoming and unfruitful; he did not even possess as yet, and already he begrudged the needy. ...

“But whom do I treat unjustly,” you say, “by keeping what is my own.” Tell me, what is your own? What did you bring into this life? From where did you receive it? It is as if someone were to take the first seat in the theater, then bar everyone else from attending, so that one person alone enjoys what is offered for the benefit of all in common–this is what the rich do. They seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of pre-emption. For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no would be poor, and no one would be in need. ...

But you, stuffing everything into the bottomless pockets of your greed, assume that you wrong no one; yet how many do you in fact dispossess? Who are the greedy? Those who are not satisfied with what suffices for their own needs. Who are robbers? Those who take for themselves what rightfully belongs to everyone. And you, are you not greedy? Are you not a robber. The things you received in trust as a stewardship, have you not appropriated them for yourself? Is not the person who strips another of clothing called a thief? And those who do not clothe the naked when they have the power to do so, should they not be called the same? The bread you are holding back is for the hungry; the clothes you keep in your closet are for the naked; the shoes that are rotting away with disuse are for those who have none; the silver you keep buried in the earth is for the needy. You are thus guilty of injustice toward as many as you might have aided, but did not.

(St. Basil the Great, On Social Justice, translated by C. Paul Schroeder (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009) 59-71)

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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