Bling bishops and a poor church

There was no needy person among them.
Acts 4:34 

 Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-37 is a challenge to the church that appears beyond our reach. Yet Pope Francis has called for “a poor Church and a Church for the poor.”

Pope Francis has given us an example of how this might be lived out – in his austerity as well as in his tender outreach to the poor and the marginalized.

But the challenge is not just to give to the poor, to live simply, and to tenderly embrace the marginalized. All these are important and essential to live out our calling as disciples of the Jesus.

But there may be more.

Pope Saint John XXIII called for a church of the poor – not only for the poor. I think that means that we should be a church that makes the causes of the poor our causes, not doing things for them, but working with them.

This may mean major changes.

Pope St. John Paul II, in his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – On Social Concern – challenged the church to be really with the poor. In paragraph 31, he wrote

…part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation – she herself, her ministers and each of her members – to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her “abundance” but also out of her “necessities.” Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. As has been already noted, here we are shown a “hierarchy of values” – in the framework of the right to property – between “having” and “being,” especially when the “having” of a few can be to the detriment of the “being” of many others.

This is not a new concern – but one that finds echo in the lives and words of many saints. Today’s saint, Catherine of Siena, was one of these. A mystic who was called out of her mysticism to care for the poor and then to reform the church, Catherine was scandalized by the luxury of the bling bishops and clergy of her day. As she wrote on the bishops and the clergy of her day:

They ought to be mirrors of freely chosen poverty, humble lambs, giving away the Church’s possessions to the poor. Yet here they are, living in worldly luxury and ambition and pretentious vanity, a thousand times worse than if they belonged to the world! In fact, many laypersons put them to shame by their good and holy lives.

Catherine could say this without hypocrisy for she lived a simple life, in deep communion with Christ. She loved the Church but wanted the Church to be faithful to Christ.

The challenge is not only for the institutional church but for all of us.

It may come back to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles: Do we share our possessions and are there really no poor among us?

 

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