Sunday, 4 August 2013
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury, 'A Poor Church for the Poor'
Pope Francis, as I'm sure we're all aware, has been very much in the news the last week and a bit, with the youth gathering around him for World Youth Day in Rio. And its been great to see the Church enjoying some good publicity. An estimated three and half million joined him for the main Mass -a number that is almost impossible to visualise! But the reports also indicated the Pope doing other profound things, things more characteristic of the particular message his pontificate has been focussing on, like his visit to the slums in Rio, meeting the poorest of the poor.
The poor, and poverty, has been a theme Pope Francis has spoken about from day one of his pontificate. He has set a personal example of a simple lifestyle in many aspects of his own living: declining to use the standard papal apartments, riding in a bus with the other cardinals rather than in a separate car, and many other such things. He has done these things consciously seeking to set an agenda, because he wants, as he has put it: "A poor Church for the poor".http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22551125
"A poor Church for the poor". What does this mean? Well, its doesn't just mean the priests.
It DOES mean the priests too, of course, and I know many priests, like myself, have been thinking hard in recent months about our various possessions. Reexamining our things. I wanted some new shoes because these have some holes, but I've decided I can keep them longer still. I wanted a new watch, but decided against it. These and other such questions need to be part of an ongoing and continual examination of my life.
A priest needs to live simply, as canon law has always put it, clerics must "avoid everything that smacks of worldliness"(Canon 282.1). They must pursue "simplicity of life"(Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, n.67). St Francis de Sales would add that priests shouldn't be scruffy -our Lord went to His crucifixion in a garment nice enough that the centurions cast lots for it rather than rip it up. But things can be simple without being scruffy. I can have a clean ironed shirt even if it doesn't have cuff links.
But, to repeat, Pope Francis isn't just talking about the priests. He hasn't said, "poor priests for the poor" but "a poor Church for the poor", and, this means YOU too.
Our Scripture readings for Mass today speak about wealth. What the Pope is talking about is not new -it is in the Bible, it is in our Catholic tradition. But it is something that we can easily try to ignore. Yes, I go to Mass on Sunday. But my choice of car, choice of house, choice of the food I buy -do I make these choices in the same way that unbelievers make them? Or does my being a Christian change what I buy? Change what I choose to own and what I choose to give away?
To remind you of a criteria I offered you a couple weeks ago: Does the amount of money I give to poor, that you give to the poor, does it actually change how you live? Have I given away enough that there are actually things I would have liked to have bought that I can't because I've given the money away?
Our first reading and our Gospel text focus us on the futility of the pursuit of wealth. Both readings focus on the issue of death casting wealth as meaningless. "You can't take it with you when you go", as the old saying goes. Or as one of my favourite Country Western songs puts it, "I've never seen a hearse with a luggage rack"!
Let me close, however, with the different angle that's put on this by our second reading, which draws our attention to the issue of what the eyes of our hearts are focused on. Do they look to heaven like a believer? Or simply to earth, like an unbeliever? Am I yearning for heaven or am I yearning for this-worldly things?
If I am this-worldly, then good food, good shoes, a comfortable sofa, a nice house, my favourite wine -these things will be unduly important to me. I will invest disproportionate time and energy in their pursuit.
In contrast, Colossians tells us to "look for the things of heaven, where Christ is". Acknowledging the reality of heaven changes everything. But it only changes everything if I truly acknowledge it.
Let us take heed of Pope Francis's call for us to become "a poor Church for the poor". Let us ask ourselves whether we are giving so much that it actually hurts. And, especially if we struggle with fear at the thought of losing worldly comforts, let us look to the things of heaven, the riches that last, the riches that you can take with you when you go.