BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (220): How do we become lords of material creation?

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

If the 6th and 9th commandments guide us on how to restore the real meaning and dignity of sex as it was “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1; cf. Matthew 19:4,8), the 7th and 10th commandments instruct us on how to restore man’s mastery of the material world and free him from the slavery of possessions as it was “in the beginning.” The 7th commandment concerns external actions while the 10th focuses on internal acts.

Our Lord warned His followers not only of lust but also of possessiveness in thoughts and desires. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! First cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).

Saint John echoes the warning: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” (I John 2:15-16).

The Compendium explains: “This commandment, which completes the preceding commandment, requires an interior attitude of respect for the property of others and forbids greed, unbridled covetousness for the goods of others, and envy which is the sadness one experiences at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself” (CCCC 531).

Our Lord requires us to empty our hearts of attachments so that He can fill us up with His joy. “Jesus calls his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone. Detachment from riches – in the spirit of evangelical poverty – and self-abandonment to divine providence free us from anxiety about the future and prepare us for the blessedness of the ‘poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:3)” (CCCC 532).

The man who lives the spirit of poverty is wise because he knows where to invest attention, effort and time. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

“The spirit of poverty frees us from anxiety about the future and prepares us for the blessedness of the ‘poor in spirit,’ for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The CCCC echoes this idea: “The greatest desire of the human person is to see God. ‘I want to see God’ is the cry of our whole being. We realize our true and full happiness in the vision and beatitude of the One who created us out of love and draws us to himself with infinite love.

‘Whoever sees God has obtained all the goods of which he can conceive’ (Saint Gregory of Nyssa)” (CCCC 533).

Saint Josemaría gives some practical tips on how to make sure we are not excessively occupied by material concerns. He wrote, “As far as I am concerned, one of the signs that we’re aware of being lords of the earth and God’s faithful administrators is the care we take of the things we use: keeping them in good condition, making them last and getting the best out of them so that they serve their purpose for as long a time as possible and don’t go to waste” (St Josemaría, “Detachment,” Friends of God 122).

Speaking of waste, Pope Francis has popularized a term that describes this phenomenon: the “throwaway culture.” In June 2013, the Holy Father explained, “Our grandparents used to make a point of not throwing away leftover food. Consumerism has made us accustomed to wasting food daily and we are unable to see its real value. Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.”

Saint Josemaría gave another recommendation: “If you want to achieve this spirit, I would advise you to be sparing with yourself while being very generous towards others. Avoid unnecessary expenditure on luxuries and comforts, whether out of caprice, or vanity, etc. Don’t create needs for yourself” (Friends of God 123). He adds, “Since poverty of the spirit does not consist in not having things but rather in being truly detached from what we have, we need to be vigilant so as not to be deceived by our imagination into thinking we can’t survive unless we have certain things” (Friends of God 125).

Let us free our hearts, therefore, of unnecessary burdens and worries. But let us strive hard each day to work well and conscientiously, leaving everything in the hands of our most loving Father God. “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).