We listed the first kind of goods as temporal [in the previous chapter]. By temporal goods we mean: riches, status, positions, and other things claiming prestige; and, children, relatives, marriages, and so on. All these are possible objects of joy for the will.
But the vanity of rejoicing over riches, titles, status, positions, and other similar goods after which people usually strive is clear. If people were better servants of God by being richer, they would be obliged to rejoice in riches. But riches are rather the occasion of their offending God, as the Wise Man teaches: Son, if you be rich you shall not be free from sin [Sir 11:10].
Though it is true that temporal goods of themselves are not necessarily the cause of sin, yet, because of the weakness of its tendencies, the human heart usually becomes attached to them and fails God, which is sin. Thus the Wise Man says you will not be free from sin.
In St. Luke’s Gospel the exclamation—which ought to be greatly feared—asserts: How difficult will it be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of heaven (those who have joy in them), and demonstrates clearly a person’s obligation not to rejoice in riches, since one is thereby exposed to so much danger [Lk 18:24; Mt 19:23].
In order to turn us from this danger, David also taught: If riches abound, do not set your heart on them [Ps 62:10].
I do not want to add any more references here on so clear a matter, for I would never finish quoting Scripture. When would I ever get through telling of the evils Solomon attributes to them in Ecclesiastes?
A man who had abundant riches, and knowledge of what they are, exclaimed that everything under the sun was vanity of vanities, affliction of spirit, and vain solicitude of soul [Eccl 1:14]; that the lover of riches will not reap fruit from them [Eccl 5:9]; and that riches are kept to the harm of their owner [Eccl 5:12].
This last assertion is evident also in the Gospel, where the man who rejoiced because for many years he had stored away a good portion of the harvest heard these words from heaven: Fool, this night they will seek your soul that you may render an accounting, and whose will be all that you stored away? [Lk 12:20].
Finally, David imparts the same teaching, that we should not be envious when our neighbor becomes rich, since being rich is without profit for the next life [Ps 49:16–17]. He indicates thereby that we ought rather to pity our rich neighbor.
Saint John of the Cross
The Ascent of Mount Carmel: Book Three, Chap. 18, nos. 1–2
John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Featured image: Jordi Tambillo captured this photo of a simple, hard-working woman, carrying a sickle in her right hand and her harvest over her shoulder, as she walked along a foggy mountain road in the Andean highlands near Cajamarca, Peru. One imagines that the dog trailing behind is her faithful companion. Photo credit: Jordi Tambillo / Unsplash.