If you're a faithful listener to the prayers on our blog, you may notice that the recordings sound a bit different. This is because the monks now pray in the basilica proper (not the crypt anymore), and that's because there are just too many monks and guests to pray in the crypt -- certainly a good "problem" to have!
Finally, Fr. Cassian will be in Charlotte, NC next week for a special event and several Masses, including a Solemn High Mass on Friday, July 26th at St. Ann's Catholic Church, in honor of their patronal feast. For more information, click here.
The Proper Balance Between God and Mammon by Fr. Cassian Folsom, O.S.B.
Monastery of San Benedetto, Norcia, Italy
First: a total separation between God and mammon: God has nothing to do with money. One sees this attitude in some extreme forms of asceticism, in both Christian and non-Christian circles.
The second possible relationship: a total identification between God and mammon: money becomes our god. This form of idolatry is fairly widespread.
The third possibility: a relationship in which mammon dominates: God is considered, but it’s clear that money dominates. Perhaps this attitude is the most common compared to the other possibilities. God is recognized as a reality which should be honored – at least with one’s lips! – but is more of a peripheral reality compared to the “really important things”; one only invokes God when man needs him and after the crisis has passed, one returns again to mammon.
Finally, the fourth possibility is that in which the Lord has dominion: money maintains its right place, as an instrument, but not as an end, and every human activity – including obtaining mammon – has as its purpose to give glory to God. This last relationship between God and mammon represents the ideal Christian.
These distinctions can help us to better interpret today’s Gospel passage. In the parable of the dishonest steward, the master praises him because he has acted shrewdly. Then there’s this editorial comment: the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light (Lk 16:8). Shrewdness gets praised: the capacity to understand and to act, in assessing people and situations. However, when taken too far, this ability is a bad thing. It implies astuteness and cunningness, and in the case of the dishonest steward, his shrewdness is quite sly. However, in the positive sense, the Lord has given us the gift of intelligence, and we call the man “wise” if he knows how to properly assess people and situations. We must use these gifts of God – intelligence, energy, dedication, fantasy – in the same way in which we should use mammon – for the glory of God.
In the Gospel passage, the text that follows is a bit difficult to understand: And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteousness mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations (Lk 16:9). This phrase is to be understood in an ironic sense – perhaps a paraphrase would help to clear things up: “Go ahead, get friends by means of unrighteous wealth: wealth will inevitably fail, and these friends of yours - will they welcome you into the eternal dwellings?” The answer is obvious: No. Wealth does not lead to eternal habitations. As the Psalm says: Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice, that he should continue to live on forever, and never see the Pit (Ps 49:7-9).
The lectionary doesn’t mention the final phrase of all of this teaching, a famous phrase which is found a few passages later, and precisely: You cannot serve God and mammon (Lk 16:13) – which means you cannot pay allegiance to both in an absolute way: one of the two has to serve the other.
After this brief reflection, let us ask St. Benedict to give us his opinion because he deals with this matter on several occasions in his Holy Rule.
In the chapter on the cellarer (or the bursar) of the monastery, St. Benedict warns him in this way: “Let him regard all the vessels of the monastery and all its substance, as if they were sacred vessels of the altar. Let him neglect nothing” (RB 31:10-11). This is an important point. The sacred vessels of the altar – what is their purpose? They contain the most precious body and blood of Christ.
But these vessels are also made with precious materials like gold and silver for the purpose of giving glory to God. If all of the vessels of the monastery should be treated with the same reference reserved for the sacred vessels, this means that everything – even the smallest and least significant – has as its purpose to give glory to God. St. Benedict does not permit carelessness in his monasteries: money, tools, all the stuff of the monastery is to be handled with great care. Actually, he says: “If anyone, however, handles the goods of the monastery slovenly or carelessly let him be reprimanded; and if he does not amend, let him come under the discipline of the Rule” (RB 32:4). Why does he insist so much? Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus – “that in all things God may be glorified” (RB 57).
In the chapter about the abbot, St. Benedict says: “Above all things, that the Abbot may not neglect or undervalue the welfare of the souls entrusted to him, let him not have too great a concern about fleeting, earthly, perishable things” (RB 2:32). There’s always the temptation in the monastery for the abbot to worry more about the administrative affairs than the formation of the monks. Isn’t this true in family life? There’s the temptation to worry first about one’s work commitments, with the risk of neglecting the formation of one’s children.
St. Benedict can help us rediscover the correct balance between material and spiritual things, when he says: “And that the abbot may not perhaps complain of the want of earthly means, let him remember what is written: Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you; and then later: “There is no want to them that fear Him” (RB 2:35-36).
Therefore, what is the solution to the tension which exists between God and mammon? Well, we find an answer in the collect of the Mass which is expressed with wonderful synthesis:
O God, protector of those who hope in you,
without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy,
bestow in abundance your mercy upon us
and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide,
we may use the good things that pass in such a way
as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure (XVII Sunday of Ordinary Time).
(Translated from the original Italian by B. Gonzalez.)