Pope Francis delivered a powerful homily at morning Mass in which he denounced modern day “leeches” – those who take advantage of unemployment desperation to offer workers subpar working conditions without health insurance or pensions – calling this “civilized trafficking” and warning the faithful to develop a “correct relationship” with money.
L’Osservatore Romano is reporting on the homily which was based on the Letter of James (5:1-6) which berates the wealthy who take advantage of the poor by offering employees skimpy wages while they revel in luxury.
The Epistle, which cites the “workers who have harvested your lands and whom you have not paid” could have been written by someone living in one of our cities in the world today, the pope said.
For example, “the same thing happens” to those who . . . . are contracted to work “from September to June, with no opportunity for a pension, without health insurance”, and are then suspended during the summer months, as if in July and August they live on air. Then it starts again in September. Those who do this, the Pope stated clearly, “are true leeches and live off of the blood drained from people” who provide slave labor.
He went on to tell the story of a girl in search of work who was offered 11-hour work days for a meager monthly wage. When she protested, she was told: “Look at the line behind you. If you want it, take it, if no, leave. There are others waiting”.
These wealthy people “fatten themselves on wealth” and seem to be the very people about whom the Apostle writes: “You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter”, Francis said.
Those who behave in this way, are “traffickers” and “do not realize it”, Francis said.
“We used to think that slaves no longer existed”, he said, “but they exist. It’s true, people are not going and taking them from Africa to sell them in America, no. But in our cities and in the exploitation of people, the exploitation not only of children, of young people, but of all people, who in their labor are treated unjustly.”
Employers must take care to avoid “this modern-day tragedy: the exploitation of people.” This is a kind of trafficking – not in prostitution or child labor – but a more “civilized” trafficking that says to workers: “I’ll pay you up to this point, without vacation, without health insurance, everything under the table… this way I get rich!”
Wherever we see people going hungry while others profit from their work, we see grave sin.
“Living off of the blood of the people . . . this is a mortal sin. It is a mortal sin. It requires a great deal of penitence, a great deal of restitution to be converted from this sin,” he said.
But this doesn’t mean that riches are bad. The Word of God teaches us much about this subject and clearly states that God assigns man the task to prosper, to “be fruitful and multiply.” There are also many righteous men in the Bible who were rich, such as Job and David.
Thus, “riches are good”, but, Francis added, they are also “relative”. In fact the Lord “praises Solomon for asking not for wealth but for wisdom of heart in order to judge his people”. Riches, in other words, “are not something absolute”.
Some people believe “in what is called the ‘theology of prosperity’,” sometimes referred to as the “prosperity gospel” that says God considers you to be a just man if he gives you riches.
But this “is a mistake,” Francis says, and quotes the Psalmist: “Set not your heart on riches”. This is precisely the problem that affects each of us: is my heart set on riches or is it not? What is my relationship with wealth?”
In this regard Jesus “speaks of ‘serving’: you cannot serve God and riches; they are opposed. In themselves they are good, but if you prefer to serve God, riches come in second place: the right place”, the pope said.
Christians must forge a correct relationship with money and not allow it to control them.
He concluded by praying that the Lord might “make us understand today the simple thing that Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel passage: a cup of water in the name of Christ is more important than all the wealth accumulated through the exploitation of people.”