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Priestly spirit of poverty

August 9, 2015

It’s nice to know that many dioceses in the country are adopting the so-called Standard Living Allowance (SLA) plan for their priests and, of course, their bishops. It’s an effort to take care of the basic needs and sustenance of the clergy whatever their pastoral assignments and personal conditions may be. We indeed have to take care of them who are selfless in bringing Christ to the faithful.

The appropriate structures and systems of the plan are being put up. Some period of experimentation is now underway. The learning process has started with obvious cases of some kinks and snags being ironed out.

All these are good. But let’s remember that the structures and systems, no matter how effective and efficient they are in theory, would come to nothing if they are not animated by the proper spirit of poverty that we, clerics, are supposed to live. As St. Paul puts it: “The written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3,6)

We should then understand that this whole business of establishing the SLA is not just about money and sustenance and of how Church finances can be allocated with greater equity. It is, first and last, a matter of reinforcing the priestly spirit of poverty that is very crucial in the priest’s identity, dignity and ministry.

We have to understand that without this proper priestly spirit of poverty, the priesthood is compromised or at least distorted, no matter how showy a priest struts his stuff. He will end simply being a performer, a user, a bureaucrat, instead of the sacramental representation of Christ as head of the Church, a dispenser of the divine mysteries

In the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, issued in 1994, some description of this priestly spirit of poverty is made (n. 67). Priestly poverty is pictured as an image of the poverty of Christ that has a salvific scope. It is the way to make one totally available to the things of God, of Christ, and the needs of the people.

“A priest could hardly be a true servant and minister of his brothers if he were excessively worried with his comfort and well-being,” it says. With respect to the created and earthly goods, the priest can use them but “with a sense of responsibility, moderation, upright intention and detachment, precisely because he has his treasure in heaven and knows that all should be used for building the Kingdom of God.”

The directory encourages the priest to lead “a simple life and avoid anything which could have an air of vanity, voluntarily embracing poverty to follow Christ more closely. In all aspects (living quarters, means of transportation, vacations, etc.), the priest must eliminate any kind of affectation and luxury.”

It’s sad to note that many people have been turned off by the way some priests comport themselves in public. Rightly or wrongly, they have claimed that some priests have luxury cars, ostentatious manners and are always thinking of money to the extent that people brand them as “mukhang pera,” converting their priesthood into some kind of business.

This does not mean that priests should look and smell like beggars. Far from it. They, in fact, should be elegant, decently attired and easily distinguishable as priests who can readily be approached by anyone. As much as possible, they should not be mistaken as ‘habal-habal’ or jeepney drivers or some misplaced celebrities, etc.

I suppose it would be good if regular lifestyle checks can be made by the proper church authority so that the appropriate suggestions, corrections, solutions and remedies can be made promptly, avoiding scandals that can really be harmful to the life of the Church, not to mention the priests concerned themselves.

What can be helpful is when priests themselves have regular spiritual directions to which they should have recourse with all freedom. We should not forget that the greater the responsibility one has, the greater also is his need for guidance and discipline. The moment this principle is forgotten or taken for granted, the incidence of all kinds of anomalies would just be a matter of time.

The directory also says that a priest should be a friend of those most in need, reserving “his most refined pastoral charity for these, with a preferential option for all poverty, old and new, tragically present in our world, always remembering that the first misery from which man must be liberated is that of sin, the root of all evil.”

All of these indications about priestly spirit of poverty have to be lived with naturalness and discretion, knowing how to pass unnoticed, without ever screaming to the world, “I am poor.”