GOD AND MAMMON



"If you have no money, be polite!"
I heard someone say.
It says a lot about money; it says that money is that which makes it possible for you to be rude to people.

Money means a lot of different things; it is much more than it appears to be. It is God's greatest rival:
"you cannot serve God and Mammon." But did you know that it is called after a goddess?

Her name was Moneta. But in her earlier days she had a different name, Hera. In ancient Greece she was queen of the gods, and mother of Ares, the god of war (that figures!); she was known for her vindictive nature and never forgot an injury (that figures too!). Angry with a Trojan prince for preferring Aphrodite, goddess of love, to herself, she aided the Greeks in war and was not appeased until Troy was destroyed (that figures most of all!). When this unpleasant goddess was adopted by the Romans she was renamed Juno Moneta (Juno the Monitress - or schoolmistress!), and she presided over a Roman temple where gold was coined. Moneta is still one of the Italian words for money. And our word 'money' is derived from the same disagreeable lady!

It retains a great many of her personality traits: it is often the cause of war and jealousy and revenge. It is much more than the paper it seems to be, or the metal, or the plastic.
It is our love of things; it is our escape from dependence on people; it is our security against death; it is our effort to control life....

It is much easier to love things than to love people. Things are dead, so you can possess them easily. You can possess a great deal of money and property very easily: it will never criticise you or complain about you, and it will never try to be free of you. But even a very small child can criticise you and complain, and strike for freedom. It is easier to love money than to love even a baby. If you can't love people you will begin to love money. It will never hurt your feelings or challenge your motives, but neither will it ever respond to you - because it is dead. That's the problem! And after a while the problem will begin to show: you will begin to look dead yourself. The more money you accumulate, the more afraid you will become and the more isolated from people: because you will suspect that they are coming near you only for the sake of your money. After a while you will be incapable of loving anyone, and then you might as well be dead.

But people who love people become careless about money. They know from experience that money cannot buy love; far from it, it can even be the enemy of love. There is nothing wrong with it in itself; it is neutral. But an extreme attachment to it is
not neutral; it is a kind of opposite religion. "You cannot serve God and Mammon." Or as a more modern translation has it, "You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.
" The religion of God is the religion of love. The instinct of love is to share,
to give away. But the instinct of Mammon is to accumulate. Love is such a deep fulfilment that you can
be poor and yet full of joy. St Francis's father, a businessman, was forever nagging Francis about giving away things and money to the poor, and threatened to cut off his inheritance. Francis told him to keep the lot, and running out he threw off every stitch of his clothing! He needed nothing! He was a free spirit. He was no hostage to a miser. He became a great saint and stole the heart of the world. He is still doing immense good, inspiring inner freedom in countless people; he is better known than any other saint in the Church.

If you were stranded on a desert island with a million pounds you would die of hunger. Money is abstract: it is rows of figures on a piece of paper in the bank. But love is concrete; is real here and now. If you are incapable of life here and now, you will surely give your heart to Mammon.

Donagh O'Shea OP

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.