Dear Bishops: Remember St. Dominic

Dear Bishops: Remember St. Dominic September 1, 2014

Once, when he visited the pope, the Holy Father showed off some of his bling and remarked “Peter can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold I do not have.'” To which the pithy saint replied “Neither can he say, ‘Rise and walk.'”

Here’s the deal: I totally agree with Dorothy Day that when it comes to honoring God no expense should be too great. I am not one of those who say, with Judas Iscariot, “Why were these things not sold and given to the poor?”, in no small part because the House of God is one of the rare places where beauty is poured out free of charge for the poor to enjoy and not locked up in a rich man’s private collection.

But I also agree with Day, that when it comes to the human creature comforts of bishops, Dominic (and Francis) have it right. Bishops should live as poorly and cheaply as church mice. The days of lavish homes are over.

I have no objection to whatever size facility a bishop needs to conduct his business. But the personal perks need to be minimal.

It’s not an original idea of course. It’s not only in Scripture, but in that deeply scriptural thinker Chesterton as well:

It was certainly odd that the modern world charged Christianity at once with bodily austerity and with artistic pomp. But then it was also odd, very odd, that the modern world itself combined extreme bodily luxury with an extreme absence of artistic pomp. The modern man thought Becket’s robes too rich and his meals too poor. But then the modern man was really exceptional in history; no man before ever ate such elaborate dinners in such ugly clothes. The modern man found the church too simple exactly where modern life is too complex; he found the church too gorgeous exactly where modern life is too dingy. The man who disliked the plain fasts and feasts was mad on entrees. The man who disliked vestments wore a pair of preposterous trousers. And surely if there was any insanity involved in the matter at all it was in the trousers, not in the simply falling robe. If there was any insanity at all, it was in the extravagant entrees, not in the bread and wine.

Make the Church more gorgeous and her ministers more poor, that God might be honored with beauty and his special favorites, the poor, might be exalted.

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