How to pull up sin by its roots

The love of money is frighteningly strong and arises early. The promise of a one dollar allowance motivates my 8 year old son to take out the kitchen trash every day and, once a week, to take the bins to the curb -- in rain, snow, sleet, and hail. He would not do this, so consistently at least, for love of his mother.

Earlier still than love of money is love of things. A five year old might clean up an entire messy play room to receive a single small toy, such as a matchbox car. But money quickly becomes more desirable, because of its indefiniteness. To have money in one’s pocket is to have a little bit of power. “I can buy anything I want with this”, my son thinks. He has three dollars and quite literally he believes he has a small fortune.

If “the love of money is the root of all evil,” as St. Paul teaches, does this mean that my son has already turned bad? I am exploiting and maybe strengthening his evil tendencies by offering him an allowance? The love of money -- or “greed,” “covetousness”-- is one of the Seven Capital Sins. Might a boy like my son, then, be encouraged to reflect upon and perhaps confess his sin of greed?

I bet you don’t understand “the love of money is the root of all evil” the way St. Thomas Aquinas did. I bet you think the maxim means that love of money is the starting point of evil -- that it’s a kind of cause, and that other evils spring from it like effects.

Aquinas specifically denies this. According to Aquinas, when St. Paul uses the word “root,” he means to refer to the function of the roots of a plant or tree. Roots provide water for the plant to grow. In the same way, Aquinas says, money nourishes and gives sustenance to evil.

“We see that by riches,” Aquinas writes, “man acquires the means of committing any sin whatever, and of sating his desire for any sin whatever, since money helps man to obtain all manner of temporal goods, according to Ecclesiastes 10:19: ‘All things obey money’: so that in this sense the desire for riches is the root of all sins.”

The starting point for sin, Aquinas teaches, its originating cause, is something else -- it’s pride. Pride and money work together like a pair born for each other. Say the words , “I can buy anything I want with this money,” placing emphasis on the words “I want,” and you have pride; place emphasis instead on the word “anything,” and you have love of money. Pride supplies the goal of self-assertion and self-aggrandizement, and love of money steps forward offering the ways and means.

It’s not that pride has to come first in time. Pride always fills a spiritual vacuum. Suppose you have a jejune desire for lots of money -- just so that you can do anything you want. That you are supposing you might use money for anything you want, instead of for some good purpose (the more specific the better) is already pride. Idle money in one’s hands is a devil’s workshop.

By “love of money” we actually mean “love of money, just for itself.” Because money is an instrument, the moment we love it for something else, our love becomes love for that other thing, not love of the money. Suppose it’s a definite idea in the mind of a boy earning his allowance that he is going to save his money to buy Christmas presents for his brothers and sisters--no love of money there, only charity.

Likewise, we can allow an 8-year-old boy the fantastical thoughts that with three dollars he is fabulously rich, and that he can do anything he wants with such a sum of money. His having money -- his little share of power -- can helpfully lead him to think of himself as more grown-up and, in his own little way, as like his parents.

Yet, money will help him to mature only if he is taught that money means, not power, but rather authority -- and that all authority implies responsibility. It is imperative that his thought that “I can do anything I want” remain merely fantastical. He shouldn’t suppose that he can spend large portions of it without checking with his parents, or even small sums without being prepared, at least, to give them an account if asked.

It works the same way with us grown up children. When we desire money for some definite, good purpose, we do not sin, or when we desire money indefinitely, but suppose that we are accountable to God for its good use, not free to spend it on whatever we want.

When have we perhaps committed the sin of greed? When we don’t desire or use money only as a necessary means to some good. Here’s a checklist for uprooting the bad love:

-- Have I wanted and used money for no good purpose at all (out of “caprice”)?

-- Have I wanted it for a bad purpose, precisely in service of my pride (“vanity”)?

-- Have I wanted it for a good but not a necessary end (what might be called a “mere” comfort)?

-- Have I wanted or used more of it than was needed for the good purpose I hoped to achieve (“extravagance”)?

Michael Pakaluk is a corresponding academician of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas and professor of philosophy at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Va. (

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...