DETACHMENT FROM EARTHLY POSSESSIONS
14. My brothers, sisters and friends, I am come to offer you my contribution with the object of helping you to advance fearlessly along the pathway to improvement into which you are entering. We are all indebted one to the other. Therefore it is only possible to achieve regeneration by means of a sincere and fraternal union between Spirits and incarnate beings.
Attachment to earthly possessions constitutes one of the strongest obstacles to both moral and spiritual advancement. Through this attachment all faculties for loving are destroyed as these are only devoted to material things. Let us be sincere with each other: do riches bring unmixed happiness? When your safes are full of money, do you still feel an emptiness in your hearts? At the bottom of this basket of flowers is there not a viper? I understand the satisfaction which is experienced, and quite justifiably so, when by means of honourable and assiduous work a fortune has been gained. But from this same satisfaction, which is very natural and has God's approval, to the attachment which absorbs all other sentiments and paralyzes the impulses felt by the heart, there is a large gap. As large as the distance which separates exaggerated extravagance from that of sordid covetousness, two vices between which God has placed charity, that saintly and cleansing virtue which teaches the rich man and woman to give without ostentation, so that the poor may receive without being debased.
Whether the fortune has come to you from your family, or whether you have earned it by working, there is something you should never forget, which is that everything proceeds from God and everything refers us to Him. Nothing belongs to you on this Earth, not even your own physical body: death strips you of it even as it does of all earthly possessions. You are merely trustees and not the owners, so do not delude yourselves. God has only lent these things to you and they must be returned. What is more, they have been lent to you under the condition that at least the surplus should go to those who lack what is necessary.
One of your friends lends you a certain sum of money. However lacking in honesty you may be, you make a point of scrupulously restituting what was lent and are grateful to that person. Well then, this is the exact position of the rich man or woman. God is the Celestial Friend who lends you riches, wishing nothing more for Himself than love and recognition for the loan. However, He does demand that in turn the rich man or woman give to the poor, who just as much as he or she, are sons and daughters of God.
Ardent and demented greed are aroused in your hearts by the possessions which God has entrusted to you. Have you ever stopped to think that when you allow yourselves to become immoderately attached to a valuable or perishable object, which is just as transitory as yourselves, that one day you will have to account to God for what has been done with that which came from Him? Have you forgotten that by means of riches, you assume a sacred mission of charity here on Earth, to be intelligent distributors? Hence, when what was entrusted to you is used only for your own benefit, does it not follow that you are unfaithful trustees? What will be the result of this voluntary forgetfulness of duty? Inflexible and inexhaustible death will tear away the veil under which you have been hiding, so forcing you to give an account to Him Who has been forgotten and Who, at that moment stands before you as Judge.
It is useless to try to delude yourselves while on Earth by covering up, under the name of virtue, what is usually nothing more than selfishness. It is useless to call that which is only greed and cupidity by the name of economy and foresight, or to call that which is only prodigality for your own advantage, by the name of generosity. For example, a father abstains from practising charity, economizes and accumulates wealth so that, as he puts it, he may leave his children the greatest possible amount of property in order to avoid their ever knowing misery. This is very just and fatherly, I agree, and no one can censure him for this. But is it always the only motive behind his action? Does he not frequently feel bound by his own conscience to justify this personal attachment for earthly possessions, both in his own eyes and those of the world? However, even if paternal love be the only motive, is that reason enough to forget his brothers and sisters before God? When he has a surplus, will he leave his children in misery if they have a little less? In this manner, is he not giving them a lesson in selfishness and hardening their hearts? Will it not cause their love for their neighbours to wither away? Mothers and fathers, you are labouring under a grave error if you believe this is the way to gain affection from your children. By teaching them to be selfish with others you are only teaching them to be selfish with you too.
The man who has worked very hard in his life and who by the sweat of his brow has accumulated possessions, is commonly heard to say that the value of money is better appreciated when it has been worked for. This is very true. Well then! This man who declares he knows the full value of money should practise charity; his merit will then be greater than the one who, being born to abundance, is ignorant of toil and work. But also, if this same man who remembers his own sufferings and endeavours, is selfish and unmerciful to the poor he will be more guilty than the other, since the more each one knows for themselves the hidden pains of misery, the greater tendency there should be to help others.
Unhappily, in men and women who possess riches there is always a sentiment as strong as their attachment for the riches themselves, and that is pride. Not infrequently the newly rich can be seen making someone who asked for assistance, dizzy with the tales of their successes and abilities instead of helping, and then end by saying: "Do as I did". According to their way of thinking God's goodness doesn't even enter into the matter of their having obtained these riches. The merit for having obtained them being their's alone. Their pride has blinded their eyes and deafened their ears. Despite their intelligence and aptitudes they still do not understand that with only one word God can cast them down upon the Earth.
The squandering of riches is not a demonstration of detachment from worldly goods, merely carelessness and indifference. Man, as the trustees of these goods, has no right to dissipate them, neither has he the right to confiscate them for his own benefit. Extravagance is not generosity; rather it is frequently a type of selfishness. Someone who spends money by the handful in order to satisfy a fantasy will perhaps not give even a penny to someone in need. Detachment from worldly goods consists in appreciating them according to their just value, in knowing how to make use of them for the benefit of others and not exclusively in self-benefit, in not sacrificing all interest in a future life for them, and in being able to lose them without a murmur, in case it pleases God to take them away. If due to unforeseeable circumstances, you become as Job, then say as he did: "Lord, You have given and You have taken away. Let Your Will be done." This is true detachment. Above all else be submissive and trust He Who, having given and taken away, may once again restitute what was taken. Resist disanimation and desperation with all your courage, as these paralyze your strength. When God causes you to suffer a blow, never ever forget that alongside the most painful trial He always places a consolation. Above all, ponder the point that there are possessions infinitely more precious than those to be found on Earth and this thought will help you towards detachment. The less attachment you have for something means the less sensitive you will be to its loss. The man or woman who holds on to earthly possessions is like a child, who sees only the moment, whereas the person who is able to detach themself is like an adult, who sees the more important things in life because they understand the prophetic words of the Saviour: "My kingdom is not of this world."
The Lord orders no one to dispose of what they possess, since this would condemn them to voluntary pauperism, seeing that those who did this would turn themselves into social encumberances. To proceed in this manner is to misunderstand the true meaning of detachment from worldly goods. In fact this is a selfishness of another kind, because it means that the individual exempts themself from the responsibility which riches have placed on all who possess them. God gives riches to those He considers apt to administer them for the benefit of others. The rich person is given a mission which can be beautified by him and be personally profitable. To reject riches when God has bestowed them, is to renounce the benefits of the goodness it can do, when administered with good judgement. By knowing how to do without them when you do not have them, knowing how to employ them usefully when you receive them, and by knowing how to sacrifice them when necessary, you are proceeding according to God's wishes. Well then, let those into whose hands has come what in the world is called goodly fortune, say: "My Lord, you have entrusted me with a new mission; give me the strength to fulfill it according to your wishes."
My friends, here you have what I wished to teach about detachment from worldly possessions. I would summarize what I have written by saying: Know how to be content with only a little. If you are poor, do not envy the rich, because riches are not necessarily happiness. If you are rich, then do not forget that these riches at your disposal are only entrusted to you, and that you will have to justify the use to which you put them, just as you would have to give an account of an investment for which you are responsible. Do not be an unfaithful trustee, utilizing it only for the satisfaction of your own pride and sensuality. Do not think you have the right to dispose of a loan as if it were a gift, exclusively for your own benefit. If you do not know how to make restitution then you do not have the right of request, and remember that the person who gives to the poor is settling a debt contracted with God. - LACORDAIRE (Constantina, 1863).