Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Does Luxury Compromise Christian Witness?

From Commonweal:
If it is unusual to see a pope give up his palace for humbler digs, there is nothing novel in the idea that the Christian life involves renunciation. Voluntary poverty has long been understood as an important Christian ideal, and many volumes of patristic writings are filled with stern admonishments to the wealthy. Take, for example, St. Ambrose addressing the rich Christians of Milan: “You give coverings to walls and bring men to nakedness. The naked cries out before your house unheeded; your fellow man is there, naked and crying, while you are perplexed by the choice of marble to clothe your floor.” Hundreds of other passages like this one could be cited. As the historian Helen Rhee notes, the writings of the church fathers assume that “Christian self-definition includes unequivocal denunciation of avarice and luxury as irrational desires and displays of wealth.”

Yet most lay Catholics in the United States have been reluctant to take up these challenges. We admire Dorothy Day, but from afar, forgetting that she and Peter Maurin hoped that every parish would one day have a house of hospitality and that ordinary American Catholics might set aside a hospitality room in their own homes. Many are quick to accuse the Catholic clergy of extravagance (often justifiably) while remaining silent about the wealth displayed in the parking lots of our churches. This inconsistency is partly the residual effect of the old “two-level ethic,” according to which voluntary poverty was only for a few exceptional Catholics with special vocations. Poverty, like celibacy, was for the rectory and the monastery. But Vatican II reminded us of “the universal call to holiness,” and Pope John Paul II explicitly rejected the two-level ethic in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor. The evangelical counsels are no longer to be understood as only for monks and nuns. (Read more.)

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