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.