As Pope Francis suspends a German bishop for his lavish spending, I got a call from the BBC World Service asking me to comment on the situation. I’m traveling today so can’t be on the radio, but here’s my take on it.
First of all, the clergy are not all called to vows of poverty, but we are all called to a life of “apostolic simplicity.” The way I understand apostolic simplicity is that we have all that we need for our material health and well being. We observe simplicity even if we are not called to vows of poverty. We’re not all Franciscans. That simplicity is within the context of the society in which we live. In the wealthy USA we will probably have more stuff than if we were living as missionaries in the jungle, but wherever we are we should set an example of simplicity of life.
What about lay people? I take an unusual and radical opinion on this, and it is admittedly, only an opinion. I think if a man or woman is so gifted that he should make just as much money as possible. Of course he should do it through hard work, shrewd intelligence and providing goods and services to others, but he should make as much money as he can and not be ashamed about it. I’d say, “Go on! Use your gifts! Make money! Make lots of money!”
Now here comes the bit you don’t like. I’d also say, “Make lots of money so you can support the work of the gospel.” Let me use my dear old Dad as an example. He was a Christian businessman. He owned about half a dozen men’s retail clothing stores in shopping malls. He worked hard, negotiated hard, played the game and made a good bit of money. But his whole life he gave away 15% of his income. When he started making more money he gave away an even larger percentage. He got involved in Christian missions, supported Christian youth work, backed apostolic efforts to spread the gospel and supported the work of his local church.
He did so with gusto, a kind of masculine “get go” and with huge hilarity. He loved giving to causes he believed in. He loved to see them grow and prosper. He loved working with the people who were so serving God. Furthermore, his and my mom lived in what I would term apostolic simplicity. They lived in a modest rancher home, drove the same car until it died a natural death, went on mission trip vacations and lived day by day the simple, prayerful, homespun kind of Christianity that is still dear to my heart.
Listen and listen carefully. My Dad is the reason I am a Christian today. Do you want to evangelize? Then live like him. He showed me and many other people what it means to be a consistent and sacrificial and joyful Christian.
Sometimes people would question him about making so much money and making so much profit. He’s say, “Sure I want to make as much money as possible…so I can spend it on doing the Lord’s work.”
And so he did. God bless him.
So get out there and make just as much money as you can….and then use it to fertilize and water God’s garden.