I Love My Volvo

I drive a six year old Volvo. It’s a nice car. The headline says I love it, but really I just like it a lot. I also like my ten year old motorcycle, my house in the suburbs and the other stuff that fills the house.

Is that okay?

I mean, I’m a Catholic priest. I’m supposed to be living in poverty and all that?

Yes and no. I’m a Diocesan priest. I haven’t taken a vow of poverty, but I am supposed to live in “apostolic simplicity.” What does that mean?

Simplicity means loving all things according to their worth and being detached from the inordinate love of them in order to love them properly and proportionately. What does that mean?

Let’s take my Volvo as an example. What is a car for? It’s for getting you from A to B safely and in a moderate level of comfort. So that’s what I love my Volvo for. It is a means of transport. I love it for that value. It’s a machine to get me safely from here to there. Why else might I love it? I love it for its beautiful and efficient design. I love it for its reliability and history. This is the proper love of a car.

An improper love of a car is when I love it because I get an ego surge because I’m rich enough to own that kind of car. An improper love of the car is when it is a status symbol. An improper love of the car is for the testosterone boost when I speed down the highway and pass other cars on purpose. An improper love of the car is when I use it to show off and think myself better than another person. An improper love of the car is when I value it as a “good investment” and plan to make money with it. An improper love of the car is using it as a sex symbol.

The right love of a Volvo is not only proper–it is proportionate. In other words, the love of the Volvo is relegated to its proper place in my other loves. I love God first, my family second, other people, my vocation—lots of other things more than I love my Volvo. My love for the Volvo is therefore okay as long as it is loved the proper way and in the proper place amongst my other loves.

This should be our attitude to all our wealth, all our property, all our “stuff”. The poet Thomas Traherne said, “Can a man be just unless he loves all things according to their worth.”

This is what he meant: to be properly detached from material goods is to be properly attached to them for their true value.

Everything else is a distortion which leads to covetousness, idolatry, greed and violence.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Paul Rodden

    I love my Volvo.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    As a gear-head who enjoys the athletic traits of a car, I stand guilty as charged of inordinate love!

  • Joanne

    So, are you saying that the love you have for your car (or other material things) is completely fine as long as it is in the right relation (relative, rightly ordered) to your love of God? If so, then one can justify all materialism this way. I’m afraid that this way of thinking leaves out the important virtue of good stewardship.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Yes. If it is in the right relationship to love of God, then proper stewardship follows. Thus “I love God first and foremost. He expects me to use my wealth as in the parable of the talents. Therefore I give generously.”

  • Arnold

    I love my Nissan Altima.

    • u3

      ditto.

  • Caravelle

    That sounds like a healthy kind of materialism but it doesn’t strike me as consistent with Jesus’s attitude towards possessions in a lot of the New Testament. What am I missing ?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      And what exactly were Jesus’ commandments to possessions?

      • Caravelle

        I didn’t say “commandments”, I said “attitude”.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          Oh, okay. Then what do you feel is Jesus’ attitude to possessions?

  • Theodore Seeber

    I love my prius. It’s 7 years old. I am having problems with it, it’s new to me and I’ve yet to even get the title or change the out of state plates.

    But it represents a platform on which I can experiment in some modes of transportation I’ve wanted to for a VERY long time.

  • Disco

    I love my Mercury Grand Marquis.

  • Maritza

    Father,
    What car does your wife drive? Do you let your wife drive the Volvo?
    Thanks, Maritza

  • TRAD DAD

    Good on you Father . Can`t help but think of the cars etc. as simply tools of trade .
    Pax et bonum .
    From Our Lady`s Land of the Southern cross .

  • David Zelenka

    I’m not sure. I think this issue has to do with meekness. I am finding meekness to be probably the #1 priority for Christians. Pardon me while I explain.

    In our Parish our pastor focuses on being actively holy. It sounds good, especially when holiness seems to be off so many’s radar these days. However, I don’t think we have the ability to affect our ‘holiness-level’. No matter how much we pray or go to church or how many rosaries we say, we can’t make ourselves more or less holy.

    Yes, we must seek his holiness, but it is meekness that I can work toward with the help of God. I find that meekness may be more important than holiness. In fact, meekness and holiness are probably closely related if not synonymous. But the main difference is that we are only holy through Jesus, the Holy “One.” We can’t make ourselves more or less holy. But meekness is who we were before the Fall and it is how we were made. Meekness is our root: “From dust…” We can actually strive to be meek. When we stray from meekness, we get away from our purpose and we stray from God. It’s in this deep humility that we close in on God’s kingdom. It’s in our smallness, not our greatness. So, if I had to work at one character trait it would be meekness rather than holiness. Holiness is something ‘graced’ or given to us as we get closer to him and get to know him better. Meekness is a character trait inherent and achievable to mankind. We let go of proud, haughty things.

    This is the whole problem with the prosperity gospel. It’s not meek. I certainly don’t think this is what Fr. L. is promoting.

    Why couldn’t Jesus work miracles in his home town? Some say that the people of Nazareth just needed more faith to see Jesus’ miracles. I think rather it was the proudness (lack of meekness) of the Nazarenes that kept his work away: “Oh, it’s just Joseph’s son. We’re above him…”

    The danger with seeking a holiness rather than meekness is that holy people can turn into Pharisees and then they become anything but meek and stray the farthest from God. For it is the meek who inherit the earth, is it not?

    So, are fast, shiny cars meek? That would be my question to Fr. L. I suppose they could be. But when you sit in the leather seats and feel the strong acceleration, and feel better than those in the Ford Pintos, do you feel proud? Do you get that rrrrrrmmmMM Feeling? Does it feel meek?

  • FW Ken

    Love people, use things.

    Cliche, but a useful cliche. Now, I “loved” my first Ford Ranger, but time brought it to an end. The friendships strengthened by hauling stuff have had a longer life.

    The Lord had no place to lay his head. He called the rich young ruler to give away all his possessions. We have no record that he gave that command to anyone else, but in the early Church, the disciples shared all they had, and no one considered anything their own. Yet this was not a divine precept. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was lying, not holding private property. In fact, Leo XIII expressly teaches that private property is a fundamental human right. He also teaches that property must be used in the service of fraternal love.

    So… Jesus’ attitude towards possessions? Maybe when the Baptists talk about stewardship, they are on to something: everything belongs to God and we are caretakers of what he has given us to tend. That’s certainly a viewpoint that’s consistent with scripture.

    • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar

      I think I first saw that on Terry Nelson’s site, and I agree that it’s very helpful. It also helps to remind us NOT to use people and love things. I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying the use of things, and loving people, and I think it’s fair to say you enjoy using your car, your home, and your motorcycle.

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    Although Diogenes even gave away his cup, being able to make one of his hands, Jesus owned a seamless garment so fine that the Romans rolled for it rather than divide it.

  • Joe

    Father Dwight, what are your thoughts on the evangelical, “stewardship” perspective on possessions? Is it compatible with Catholic teaching?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Not sure exactly what you are referring to.

  • Psy

    I enjoy restoring and building cars as a hobby, classics and sports cars, for my next project I’m planing on a 50s or older truck. I don’t see a problem unless you have something against hobbies.
    Here is a pic of my last project for you motorheads.
    http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=n4fbd3&s=5

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      What would be the problem with a great hobby like that?

  • u3

    As parish priests we need a good and reliable car to get us around…we have many, many miles to travel; especially is you have three parishes and they are not close to one another. Don’t worry, Fr. Dwight, by no means are you just trying to ‘keep up appearances.’ One of my parishes has a Jaguar dealership next to it and as you can imagine everyone in the parish is in debt up to their ears while driving the nicest automobiles, all the while keeping up appearances.

  • Michael

    I love my silver Miyata LT1000. It’s a few years old but in mint shape. Every year I tear it apart and fine tune it for the driving season making sure the manual gear shift and the brakes are working perfecty. I replace the tires almost every year as I wear them out with my summer driving. Some people may think it’s an affectation but I always wear gloves when I’m out for a spin. I won’t let my wife drive it but when my son is old enough maybe he can try it. But only is he appreciates a real road machine.

    Here’s a picture, not of it, but the same one in blue
    http://img3.imageshack.us/img3/6434/img1521zl.jpg

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Very nice. I should ride our tandem with the wife more.

      • Michael

        A tandem bike is the true test of a marriage. Does the spouse in back trust the spouse in front to steer in the right direction and does the spouse in front trust that that spouse in back is actually peddling?

  • Paul Rodden

    It seems to me that, ‘apostolic simplicity’ is what we’re all called to, isn’t it? ‘Poverty, Chastity and Obedience’ are on my agenda as a lay person.
    But saying ‘I love my Volvo’ earlier was a lie. It’s my wife’s Volvo. Envy, envy, envy…

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

    can there be a balance between being a Baptist-style pastor driving a new Cadillac (the people insist- they don’t want their pastor to look bad) and a Catholic priest being a monk who has taken a vow of poverty? This attitude meant that the black mold in our clergy housing wasn’t taken care of – I’ve had serious health problems for over 10 years…but we got to live non-materialistically!

  • Pearty

    Status, speed and sex…not the first things that come to mind with Volvo.

  • Henri

    I understand that, having a family, you needs some personal belongings, but as a seminarian (not in a diocese but a society of religious life, admittedly), I expect and look toward not to own anything in the world except for a few clothes, vestments, and necessary items. A life of apostolic simplicity is in my idea much more that a fair relation to things, but a desire to own the less number of things possible. Anyway with my country’s priests earning about 700€ a month (that’s about 900$), there will be no temptation to clutter the rectory with unnecessary things!


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