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Messiah v. Mammon

by Fr. Theodore Smith, O.Praem.


From the dawn of revelation, there were prophecies about a coming Savior. He would later come to be known as the Messiah. This Messiah or anointed King of the Jews would be a descendant of King David, who in his day had made Israel an empire by defeating all her enemies round about.

Our Lord’s contemporaries—who knew of Israel’s subsequent subjugation by the Babylonians, the Greeks, and now by the Romans—longed for a return to Israel’s golden era, which was defined in their minds by King David’s kingdom. They confused this earthly symbol of grandeur with its heavenly reality, which far surpassed anything that the mind of mortals could imagine. Jesus’ contemporaries automatically assumed that the coming Messiah’s kingdom would be like David’s empire only on a far grander scale. Very late in the game even our Lord’s own apostles couldn’t bring themselves to think outside this box. But this anti-kingdom, this pretender to heaven’s bliss, turned out to be a delusion—indeed, the mother of all delusions!

Yes, Jesus’ Kingdom would be universal—or Catholic—but it wouldn’t be a temporal affair. Its fate wouldn’t depend on the intrigues of war or politics. Some such world empire will indeed come to pass one day. Its king was even prophesied in the New Testament, where he is known as the anti-Christ. Many think the anti-Christ is Satan. But anti-Christ simply stands for the definitive pretender to the throne of Christ. As such, he will be a man. We now know that the anti-Christ will appear thousands of years after the true Christ appeared. This amounts to one stubborn pretension! As we have seen, an anti-Christ implies an anti-kingdom and your passport to this pretender paradise is money—lots of it!

No wonder St. Paul said that “the love of money is the root of all evils.” The apostle explained that some people measure everything—even religion—in dollars and cents. The love of money stands for the inordinate love of this life, about which Jesus said, “He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world, keeps it unto life eternal.” Note that according to our Lord’s own assertion, heaven and earth are in some sense anti-kingdoms. You can’t serve two masters: Christ and anti-Christ, God and Mammon, the true God of hosts and the pagan god of money.

Today, the ancient heresy of the anti-Christ goes by a different name. We call it materialism. The more we buy, the less we are satisfied. Materialism displays all the symptoms of an addiction—one that routinely leads to debt and despair. At its root, materialism is the most fundamental addiction—an acute attachment to creatures in general rather than anything sinful in particular. One desires them without due moderation. Let’s face it: this concerns all of us in one way, shape, or form! And few ever attain complete “sobriety”— we call them saints. Yet they are the first to confess their addiction. They beat their breasts along with the rest of us and say, “I am a sinner!” “Through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault!” For an alcoholic, the first step towards sobriety is the most painful one. He must admit his helplessness by saying, “I am an alcoholic.” We too must admit that on some level we are also out of control. We are sinners! We can’t do it without Jesus, Mary, and one another. Only after this frank admission can we talk about a cure.

There is an effective cure for creature addiction: religious life. But this treatment is so drastic that the whole issue hinges upon motivation—which brings us back to the common cure. The only effective cure for the inordinate love of this life—also known as the love of money—is love of the Creator, who alone is infinitely better than the sum of all creation. Once upon a time God was known vaguely and impersonally through the creatures He made. For our distant ancestors, religion at its best was like making friends with a footprint in the sands of time. How does one fall in love with the philosopher’s unmoved Mover? Today, however, we need only gaze upon the crucifix. The heresy of the anti-Christ and his anti-kingdom is the most stubborn pretension ever known to mankind, yet the antidote is far more powerful than the heresy is tenacious. It is the love of Christ Who, upon the Cross, loved us beyond all measure. One in a thousand becomes a religious so that he can hate his life in this world, and even he doesn’t stay for this reason. The rest of us do it for the love of Christ, a love that urges us on to greater things. Amen!

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