When food is scarce, prices go up. It’s just good business, right? No, says St. Ambrose. It’s one thing to get a fair return for your work, but it’s quite another to take advantage of human misery to turn an outrageous profit.
“The people curse him who holds back grain” (Proverbs 11:26). This is a plain and definite statement, leaving no room for debate.
Yes, you must expect payment for your labor from the crops of the fruitful land, and must hope for a just return from the fruitfulness of the rich earth. But why do you use the industry of nature and make a cheat of it? Why do you grudge people the use of what is grown for all? Why lessen the abundance for the people? Why make famine your aim? Why make the poor long for a barren season? For when they do not feel the benefits of a fruitful season, because you are putting up the price, and storing up the corn, they would far rather that nothing should be produced, than that you should do business at the expense of other people’s hunger.
You make much of the lack of corn, the small supply of food. You lament the rich crops of the soil; you mourn the general plenty, and bewail the storehouses full of corn; you are on the lookout to see when the crop is poor and the harvest fails. You rejoice that a curse has smiled on your wishes, so that no one could have their produce. Then you rejoice that your harvest has come.
You collect wealth from the misery of all, and call this industry and diligence, when it is only cunning shrewdness and an adroit trick of the trade. You call it a remedy, when it is only a wicked contrivance. Shall I call this merely gain, or shall I call it robbery?
–St. Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy, 3.6IN GOD’S PRESENCE, CONSIDER . . .
Do any of my business dealings depend directly on the misfortune of others?
Could I invest my time or money in a more Christian way?
Father, help me do all I can to relieve the hungry and comfort the afflicted, so that they too may serve you with carefree hearts.