Monday, April 15, 2013

Commentary: A Poor Church for the Poor

The following commentary is taken from the blog of the Patriarch of St. Stephen.

Sub Tuum. 

In His Holiness's first meeting with the press after his election, Pope Francis stated that he would like a poor church for the poor. It was not surprising that the first instinctive response from some people was to question how a church with no money could help the poor or anyone else. And, I'm sure that the modernists and liberals hearing that statement thought it provided a further justification for the destruction of the Church's traditions, while the radical traditionalists no doubt were highly concerned that more modernist changes were on the way. I will not presume to state definitively what the Holy Father meant by his comment. However, I will provide my own interpretation as to what I believe he meant.

Dear friends in Christ, let's consider the group I just mentioned: modernists, liberals, and radical traditionalists. If we follow the notion of a poor church, those labels become irrelevant. I will return to this later. First let us consider what a "poor church" means. Does it necessarily mean a church with no money? No. The amount of money in the treasury of the church is irrelevant. With money and other resources, the church can accomplish a lot of good for the world. Hospitals, schools, shelters, and other humanitarian facilities may be built through the help of those material resources entrusted to the church's care. Ah! Now we are getting at the root of the definition. "Entrusted to the church's care" is the key phrase. You see, it is no sin to be rich. It is a sin to place money on the altar and worship it in place of Christ. When a rich man or a church or an organization with a lot of money views that money as nothing but a tool to do good in the world in the Name of Christ, then they are on the road to a true, spiritual poverty. A poor church is one that views its resources, however great or small, as being merely in her care for the benefit of humanity.

But the Church is not an esoteric construct merely for philosophical discussion. She is a living thing comprised of the clergy and faithful. Therefore, the people of the Church must order their own lives so that God is their primary focus and their resources are directed towards the common good. This does not mean people cannot take vacations, buy jewelry, etc., but rather that such purchases must be done in terms of Christian modesty and not at the expense of the work of the Church. Everything must be done in moderation and kept in perspective. If someone is buying new cars and jewelry, but doesn't even donate a single dime to to help the poor, then there is indeed a problem. There must never be arrogance that says those with more money are inherently better or harder-working than or superior to those without money. A Church that views the faithful only in terms of how much money they can donate has forgotten the great words of Saint Lawrence the Deacon and Martyr: The poor are the true treasure of the Church.

A poor person is not one who has no money. There are plenty of people with limited financial resources whose main focus is getting more material things. These people may be financially poor, but are spiritually devoid. There are also some rich people who, despite their vast resources, are primarily oriented towards God and have a sense of responsible use of what has been entrusted to them. They may be financially wealthy, but that wealth has little importance to them other than what it can do for others. From those to whom much is given, much is expected. How few people remember that!

Let us now turn to the poverty of the Church in terms of visible expression. Are we building grand buildings and chapels for the glory of God and for the edification of the people? That is the only reason to build them. Are we building our facilities to suit our own modern whims and the trends of society, or do we seek to build something beautiful as a testament to the majesty and power of our Lord? A poor church builds what it can to the best of its ability to offer the best possible for God.

And what of the liturgy? Does one who prefers the Tridentine (Latin) mass simply like the pageantry and show, or is it because it is God-centered and all the visual display is oriented entirely to the total worship of God? In the latter case, one completely surrenders to God and forgets everything else. That is poverty. And what of liturgical changes to suit the times? What of the notion that the clergy should dress like the people? Here we depart from the notion of poverty. Here we seek to suit ourselves. The moment we do that, we cease to live in poverty. The moment we do that, we collectively cease to be a poor church. So you see, if we do our best in human frailty to be poor, our focus becomes on God. There are no more radical traditionalists, liberals, or modernists. The focus is on God and helping the people of God. That, I believe, is the poor church the Holy Father wants. This is a task of building, not tearing down. It is a mission of growth, not of destruction. What a glorious goal this is!

Let us all remember that the clergy and people, though in different ways, are caretakers of what has been entrusted to us as individuals and to the Church as a whole. Those with more resources have more responsibility to use those resources for the greater good. Those with higher rank in the clergy have greater responsibility. We do not ordain men to the priesthood so that they may Lord it over others, but so that they may, like Christ, die to the world and offer the Sacrifice upon the altar for the souls of everyone around the world. A church for the poor helps everyone, no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they have done. Some Christian sects are well-known as "churches for the rich." Sunday services are more a fashion show in the pews than an act of worship. At a poor Catholic mass, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the infirmed, the disfigured, the oppressed, and all who suffer around the world are there touching the chasuble of the priest. They are lifted up as the poor priest lifts up the Body and Blood. No one is forgotten at a mass said in poverty. The splendor of God is reflected through the beauty of the liturgy the same for the most humble of humanity as for the most rich and powerful. The glory of the courts of our Lord is not limited to the rich, the powerful, and the social elite, but is available to all who approach in humility and say "O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." This is a poor church for the poor!