While the Glitter of Gold so Allures You…
In the last post, I spoke a bit about the relevancy of the Church Fathers. As I was reading some more of Saint Basil today, I was struck by it’s relevancy once again. As we celebrate this Christmas season, let us remember that Christ came and died for all people – that includes the poor in our neighborhood, the refugees struggling to make new lives in our country, the poverty stricken in all the world including those forced to send their children into slavery and prostitution. Christ loved especially the sick and the needy. I find that I often love the idea of a beautiful home, nice clothes, romantic dates at nice restaurants, and enjoying the newest technologies much more than I love the sick and the needy. This same issue of selfishness over and against the poor and the needy was as relevant in AD 300 as it is today. St. Basil, with beautiful rhetoric, tries to make us more aware about the state of the poor and of our over abundant wealth:
Yes, while the glitter of gold so allures you, you fail to notice how great are the groans of the needy that follow you wherever you go. How can I bring the sufferings of the poverty-stricken to your attention? When they look around inside their hovels, they do not spy any gold among their things, nor shall they ever. They find only clothes and furnishings so miserable that, if all their belongings were reckoned together, they would be worth only a few cents. What then? They turn their gaze to their own children, thinking that perhaps by bringing them to the slave-market they might find some respite from death. Consider now the violent struggle that takes place between the desperation arising from famine and a parent’s fundamental instincts. Starvation on the one side threatens a horrible death, while nature resists, convincing the parents rather to die with their children. Time and again they vacillate, but in the end they succumb, driven by want and cruel necessity.
And what does a parent think at such times? “Which one should I sell first? Which one will earn the greatest favor with the grain merchant? Should I choose the eldest? But I cannot bear to do so, since he is firstborn. The youngest? But I take pity on his youth, as yet untouched by tragedy. This one looks like his mother, that one shows aptitude in his lessons. Curse this helplessness! What am I to do? which of my children shall I strike? What kind of beast shall I become? How can I forget the bond of nature? If I hold onto all of them, I must watch them all perish with hunger. If I send one of them away, how will I be able to look the others in the eye ever again? They will always view me with suspicion and mistrust. How can I manage any household, when I am responsible for the loss of one of my own children? How can I ever sit down at the table, which now has plenty of food as a result of such a decision?”
And while parents come with tears streaming down their faces to sell the dearest of their children, you are not swayed by their sufferings; you take no account of nature. While famine oppresses these miserable wretches, you hem and haw, feigning ignorance of their plight, and thus prolonging the agony. They come offering their very heart in exchange for food. And yet not only is your hand not stricken with paralysis for taking profits from such misfortune, but you haggle for even more! You wrangle so as to take much and give little in return, increasing the tragedy on every side for these wretches. Tears do not move you, groans do not soften your heart, but you remain adamant and unbending.
Quoted from: St. Basil the Great. “I Will Tear Down My Barns.”On Social Justice. Translated by C. Paul Schroeder. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009.