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The earth from which many things proceed is God's gift to all men; its nourishments, therefore, must be for all. He is guilty who arrogates unto himself the common fruit due to all by causing poverty, famine and carnage on their neighbor. When we administer necessities to the needy, we give them what is their own, not what is ours: we pay a debt of justice, rather than a work of mercy.

The psalmist states that giving to the poor is an act of justice; not of mercy. "He has given to the poor, his justice remaineth forever." For he who receives what is bestowed by the Lord of all should use it for the common good. "He who is just will give. . ." adds Solomon.

The barren fig tree is symbolized by the niggardly soul who keeps back what could be profitable to the many. The ground he occupies is wasted; others could use it to plant trees that could bear fruits for others. They reason that they do no wrong; and indeed so. Like the young rich man, he stole from no one. But he was condemned for not sharing what is his. Dives was condemned for indulging in what is his. 

The niggardly sins in that he had received mercy from God but he gives none to others. The price of redemption is for us to return a good deed for a favor which anticipated our own.

But there are those who give to others but also despoil others. This is hypocrisy in that rectitude is shown while in truth he despoils others. Such persons often murmur when they give; and when want assails them they become avaricious. And from avarice many sins sprout.

Such persons must possess their wealth reasonably but never get what belongs to others. If possession is well ordered, despoiling others stops. Only those who do not despoil others will learn how to give to others; otherwise, they will steal as much as they give. You cannot give an act of mercy stained by the sin of stealing. "I am the Lord that loves judgment and hates robbery." You cannot give to God what was taken from the needy.

They who see how much they give but not how much they steal are like people who put their wages into bags with holes. While they put in, they also lose.

St. Gregory the Great: Pastoral Care, Chapter 21, Part III




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