Kathy Bernard - Publisher

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"The Christian battle with conscience"

WHAT would you do if you unexpectedly found access to a huge amount of money and there was no one around to witness it? And there was absolutely no proof that you ever found it? Would you rejoice in your good fortune because you no longer had to worry about paying a mountain of bills and money obligations?  Would you give up this once in a lifetime happenstance? What would you do?

JUST recently we all had a chance to examine our conscience when a 22year old busboy who sat waiting at a bus stop picked up and turned in to authorities a large sack that fell out of an armored truck in Los Angeles. This sack contained $203,000 in cash.  Apparently the doors at the back of the truck were not secured and the money slipped through undetected into the street. Ascension Franco Gonzales was alone when he saw the bag fall to the ground. The truck continued on its way with the drivers unaware of the occurrence. This event triggered a multitude of feelings to those reading the story in the LA Times for that money was a dream find for anyone.

IF we do not delve too deeply into the range of emotions felt, we would think that Gonzales did not go through all the uncertainty humans face when something this spectacular happens to them. For this is a fairy tale story with a strong moral twist. A chance to measure how strong honesty should prevail in such a circumstance. Ideally, a Christian’s first thought would be that the money does not belong to the finder therefore it must be returned to its rightful owner. That Christian would immediately try to locate the owner or give it to the proper authorities. This would be a perfect world. Or nonbelievers might call it fantasyland. But this is exactly what we as Christians would hope to do if this occurrence happened to us.

SADLY this is not a perfect world and we are all sinful by nature. Being the believers we think we are, we would still put ourselves through all the escape routes to still our conscience with thoughts such as the following:

(1) "They don't need the money I do".                                                                                    

(2) "Who will know?"                                                                                                              

(3) "I will give half to charity and the rest can go toward buying something nice for my family."

(4) "Nobody saw the money fall out of the truck or saw me picking it up so I am safe in keeping it.                                                                                                                                           

(5) "I can leave the country and start fresh or maybe I should start a business of my own and then I could provide jobs for needy souls.

Or how about:

(6) "God wanted me to have this or it wouldn’t have happened to me".

THESE are just a few of the countless ways in which the human mind goes into high speed when larceny rears its ugly head.

THE man who found the money agonized through all the above. And more. Gonzales, whose meager salary as a dishwasher in a restaurant is $1300 per month, showed admirable courage in spite of the strong temptations he faced.  But there were also other reasons he had to think about; if he went to the police to return the money he had to consider the fact that he might be seen as an undocumented immigrant and thrown out of the country. And questions could be raised if he suddenly started spending so much cash. He also feared someone might kill him for the money. 

EVEN as Ascension Gonzales scooped up the money encased in a clear plastic bag, he knew he was in trouble. He did the human thing and looked around to see if anyone saw what happened and immediately searched for something to disguise the cash, rummaging through trash bins to find an old container no one could see through. Even as he covered the money he was weighing the dangers as well as the pleasures that this money could bring into his life. There was possible arrest, assault, perhaps even being killed. And though these risks topped the list if he kept the money, there was also his conscience to be wrestled with since he was a Christian man.

All of us have turned this story around and in our minds became the star in this happening, immediately looking inward to see how strong we are in our principles of honesty and integrity. Perhaps in our thoughtful meanderings we discovered an avarice we did not know we possessed or found ourselves lacking in the convictions we stalwartly claim to have.  Being a Christian does not stop temptation; in fact, being a Christian sometimes attracts it. The thoughts of an easier lifestyle run high on the list, so high that the voices of reason are many times shouted down by the voice of avarice and greed. And how we deal with temptation depends on our spirituality and moral fiber to do the right thing. In perhaps a moment of clarity amid the visions of the easy life we might ask ourselves that age old question, "what would Jesus do"? And even that question can take on a new twist if we allow the forces of evil to advise us for it can be wrapped up nicely in things like "God wants you to have the money so take it. Take it, you deserve it"! But if we can pause long enough to ask God for help, we will make the correct decision. Not for earthly honor and glory but for what we recognize is right in the sight of our God who knows our sinful nature and promised never to leave us to face such matters alone. If we can resist with God’s guidance we become stronger in our faith.

INTERESTLY, the consensus of the reporters who interviewed several people about this phenomenal happening presented a varying picture of human greed. After much soul searching, the majority, once over their dreams of solvency, said they would return the money as Ascension Gonzales did. Perhaps it is human to contemplate what we would do with that kind of money; to dream of all the good things we could buy with so much cash. We could, in a few minutes, dream of a million success stories that are within our reach should we keep such a find; the things we ordinary people could do to be extraordinary. But to return the money because of safety of self, because it might be marked, or because we are afraid of being robbed and perhaps killed is not a perfect action; it is an imperfect act of righteousness. To realize immediately that it is wrong to keep it and return it without hesitating, justifying or qualification whatsoever is a perfect act of honesty and Godliness. If we pause for a moment and look into our hearts, how many of us can attest to that perfect act?

THOUGH the world may think us foolish if we do as this humble dishwasher did and return the money, we could claim a new level of strength in winning the battle of human greed, thus bringing us closer to what God wants us to be. And in our hearts, like in the heart of this honest young man, we would feel the presence of Almighty God saying "Well done, faithful servant".

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to the mailing list.  May God bless you always.  Publisher - CatholicView