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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  • Reminds me of a lovely story about Pope John Paul I (Cardinal Luciani) when he was Patriarch of Venice. He was a great lover of poverty and the poor. He sold his expensive pectoral cross to benefit a home for handicapped children. He would go around Venice in a simple cassock and plain black overcoat, putting the red skullcap in his pocket. He also made it a point never to wear his crimson cardinal’s robes except when absolutely necessary for a religious ceremony.

    His one exception was when he was visiting the sick or imprisoned or the poorest of the poor. Then he would wear the whole shebang. He would explain to them, “I’m wearing these clothes for you, to honor you.” He knew that the poor were the most important people in Jesus’ eyes, so he dressed his best for them. This guy had it right.

    By the way, his Positio is now ready to be considered by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He can’t become a santo subito enough for me.

  • The priests in my town live in pretty sweet digs, too. But remember, these are left over from the time when the church was richer and more ubiquitous in town. Now all our physical plant money goes to fix aging church roofs and boiler systems, and we’re still just scraping by. It’s not really fair to criticize these prelates for living in mansions they inherited from the early 20th century church.

    In any case, don’t worry about it. In about 20 years or so, collections will have fallen to the point where we can no longer afford to keep these places up, and they’ll all get sold off.

  • capaxdei

    On the one hand, market value and square footage are pretty weak proxies for “defy the Pope’s example” (whatever it means to defy an example). What do you suppose is the “as-is” market value of Pope Francis’s suite in Domus Sanctae Marthae?

    On the other hand, had CNN done some actual reporting (instead of an “investigation” of housing prices) I suspect they would have found that not many of the American archbishops who didn’t smell like their sheep a year and a half ago do now. (A weak proxy for “smells like his sheep” might be non-fundraising hours a week spent with lay Catholics who don’t work for the Church.)

  • cececole

    I am in the AD of Philadelphia and I do think it reflects well on Abp Chaput that he sold the previous mansion residence. I find a difference btw having simply a lavish modern mansion (like most reported above are) and actual historic residences (like in Baltimore, NYC, Chicago. Sell off all the big moderns mansions, but preserve the historic properties within the church but make sure they are used for more than just a residence.

  • The article certainly gives the wrong impression with the picture it sort of suggests is the papal residence. I traced it to the original ABC News source and it is described there simply as “a room in the Apostolic Palace.” The Apostolic Palace includes both the Pope’s private quarters, which are not what you would call luxurious, and all the public rooms where audiences are held, as well as some that just hold art works. The room in question is, as far as I can tell, one of the public spaces, where I might add, Pope Francis still spends a considerable part of his day holding audiences. He just eats and sleeps at Santa Marta. The comparison with this room and Francis’ bedroom gives an unfair impression. The real comparison would have been between the Pope’s private bedroom at the Vatican and the one at Santa Marta. You can see a rare photo of John Paul II in his bedroom at the same source, and there is little difference in regard to what you would call “luxury.”

  • Guest

    If the god of generating wealth and prosperity at the expense of the poor and the environment is good enough for many so called “conservatives”, why should we be surprised that some bishops who love the power and prestige of overseeing a large diocese, would also worship this god.

    • InsaneSanity


    • InsaneSanity

      I suppose if the god of generating wealth and prosperity at the expense of the poor and the environment is good enough for many so called “liberals”, why should we be surprised that some bishops who love the power and prestige of overseeing a large diocese, would also worship this god.

      Yea, works both ways.