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Christ is the model of priestly poverty

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 21 July 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. One of the renunciations Jesus requested of his disciples is that of earthly goods, especially wealth (cf. Mt 19:21; Mk 10:21; Lk 12:33; 18:22). This request is directed to all Christians in regard to the spirit of poverty, that is, the interior detachment from earthly goods which makes them generous in sharing these goods with others. Poverty is required of a life inspired by faith in Christ and by love for him. It is a spirit that also demands a practice, with each one's renunciation of these goods corresponding to his condition both in civil life and his state in the Church by virtue of the Christian vocation, both as an individual and as a determinate group of people. The spirit of poverty is valid for all; a certain practice of it in conformity with the Gospel is necessary for everyone.

2. The poverty Jesus requested of the apostles is a current of spirituality that could not end with them or be reduced to particular groups. The spirit of poverty is necessary for everyone, in every time and place; its lack would betray the Gospel. Faithfulness to the spirit, however, does not require of Christians in general or of priests the practice of a radical poverty with the renunciation of all property or even the abolition of this human right. The Church's Magisterium has often condemned those who claimed this was necessary (cf. DS 760; 930f; 1097); she has sought to lead thought and practice on a course of moderation. It is comforting to note, however, that over the course of time and under the influence of ancient and modern saints, the clergy has acquired an increasing awareness of a call to Gospel poverty, both as a spirit and as a practice corresponding to the demands of priestly consecration. The social and economic situation in which the clergy of almost all the countries of the world live has helped to concretize the condition of real poverty for individuals and institutions, even when the latter by their very nature need many means to carry out their work. In many cases it is a difficult and distressing condition, which the Church strives to overcome in various ways. This is done mainly by appealing to the charity of the faithful to receive their necessary contribution, in order to provide for worship, works of charity, support for the pastors of souls and for missionary projects. However, achieving a new sense of poverty is a blessing for priestly life, as for that of all Christians, because it allows them to conform themselves better to Jesus' counsels and suggestions.

3. It should be made clear that Gospel poverty entails no disdain for earthly goods, which God has put at man's disposal for his life and his cooperation in the plan of creation. According to the Second Vatican Council, the presbyter, like every other Christian, having a mission of praise and thanksgiving, must acknowledge and glorify the generosity of the heavenly Father who is revealed in created goods (cf. PO 17).

Nevertheless, the Council goes on to say that priests, although living in the midst of the world, must always keep in mind that, as the Lord said, they do not belong to the world (cf. Jn 17:14-16). They must be freed from every disordered attachment in order to obtain "spiritual discretion in which is found the right relationship to the world and earthly goods" (PO 17; cf. PDV 30). It must be recognized that this is a delicate problem. On the one hand, "The mission of the Church is fulfilled in the midst of the world and...created goods are altogether necessary for the personal development of man" (PO 17). Jesus did not forbid his apostles from accepting the goods necessary for their earthly life. Rather he asserted their right in this matter when he said in a discourse on mission: "Eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment" (Lk 10:7; cf. Mt 10:10). St. Paul reminds the Corinthians: "The Lord ordered that those who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:14). He himself insisted on the rule that "One who is being instructed in the word should share all good things with his instructor" (Gal 6:6). It is right then that presbyters have earthly goods and use them "only toward ends which are licit according to the doctrine of Christ and the direction of the Church" (PO 17). The Council did not fail to give practical directions in this regard.

Above all, the administration of ecclesiastical property, properly so called, must be guaranteed "according to their nature and ecclesiastical law, [and] should be administered by priests with the help of capable laymen as far as possible" (PO 17). This property is always to be used for "for the carrying out of divine worship, for the procuring of honest sustenance for the clergy, and for the exercise of the works of the holy apostolate or works of charity, especially in behalf of the needy" (PO 17).

The goods acquired by the exercise of any ecclesiastical office must be used primarily "for adequate support and the fulfillment of their office and status, excepting those governed by particular laws. That which is in excess they should be willing to set aside for the good of the Church or for works of charity" (PO 17). This must be especially stressed: neither for priests nor for bishops can ecclesiastical office be an occasion of personal enrichment or of profit for their own family. "In no way placing their heart in treasures...[priests] should avoid all greediness and carefully abstain from every appearance of business" (PO 17). In any case, it must be kept in mind that all possessions must be used in the light of the Gospel.

4. The same must be said about the priest's involvement in secular activities or those pertaining to the management of earthly affairs outside of a religious, sacred context. The 1971 Synod of Bishops stated: "As a general rule, the priestly ministry shall be a full-time occupation. Sharing in the secular activities of men is by no means to be considered the principal end, nor can such participation suffice to give expression to the priest's specific responsibility" (Ench. Vat., IV, 1191). This was a stance taken in response to a tendency appearing here and there toward the secularization of the priest's activity, in the sense that he could be involved, as are lay people, in exercising a trade or secular profession.

In truth there are circumstances in which the only effective way for the Church to reestablish links with a workplace that ignores Christ can be the presence of priests who exercise a trade in that environment, for example, by becoming workers with the workers. The generosity of these priests deserves to be praised. It should be noted, however, that by taking on secular, lay tasks and positions the priest runs the risk of reducing his own sacred ministry to a secondary role or even of eliminating it. Because of this risk, confirmed by experience, the Council had already stressed the need for approval by the competent authority for engaging in manual labor and sharing the living conditions of workers (cf. PO 8). The 1971 Synod gave as a practical rule the appropriateness, or less, of a certain secular occupation with the purposes of the priesthood: "This is to be judged by the local bishop with his presbyterate, and if necessary in consultation with the episcopal conference" (Ench. Vat., IV, 1192).

On the other hand, clearly there are special cases today, as in the past, in which some especially talented and well-trained presbyters can be involved in labor and cultural activities that are not directly Church-related. However, care must be taken that these cases remain exceptional. Even then the criterion determined by the Synod must always be applied, in order to be faithful to the Gospel and the Church.

5. We shall conclude this catechesis by turning once again to the figure of Jesus Christ, the high priest, the good shepherd and supreme model for priests. He is the presbyter's example of being stripped of one's earthly goods, if he wants to be conformed to the demand of evangelical poverty. Jesus was indeed born in poverty and he lived in it. St. Paul admonished: "He made himself poor though he was rich" (2 Cor 8:9). To someone who wanted to follow him, Jesus said of himself: "The foxes have lairs, the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Lk 9:58). These words show a complete detachment from all earthly comforts. However, one should not conclude that Jesus lived in destitution. Other Gospel passages state that he received and accepted invitations to the homes of rich people (cf. Mt 9:10-11; Mk 2:15-16; Lk 5:29; 7:36; 19:5-6). He had women who helped support him in his financial needs (Lk 8:2-3; cf. Mt 27:55; Mk 15:40; Lk 23:55-56), and he was able to give alms to the poor (cf. Jn 13:29). Nevertheless, there is no doubt about the spirit and life of poverty that distinguished him.

The same spirit of poverty should inspire the priest's behavior, characterizing his attitude, life and very image as a pastor and man of God. It is expressed in disinterest and detachment toward money, in renunciation of all greed for possessing earthly goods, in a simple lifestyle, in the choice of a modest dwelling accessible to all, and in rejecting everything that is or appears to be luxurious, while striving to give himself more and more freely to the service of God and the faithful.

6. Finally, let us add that, having been called by Jesus to "preach the Good News to the poor" and in accordance with his example, "Priests, therefore, and also bishops, should avoid everything which in any way could turn the poor away" (PO 17). Instead, by fostering in themselves the Gospel spirit of poverty, they will be in a position to show their own preferential option for the poor, translating it into sharing, into personal and community works of assistance, including material aid, to the needy. It is a witness to the poor Christ, which is given today by so many priests, poor themselves and the friends of the poor. It is a great flame of love enkindled in the life of the clergy and the Church. If occasionally in the past the clergy could in some places appear among the ranks of the wealthy, today they feel honored, with the whole Church, in being found in the first row among the "new poor." This is great progress in following Christ on the path of the Gospel."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement tous les pèlerins de langue française qui sont présents à cette audience. J’offre en particulier mes souhaits de bienvenue au groupe international de jeunes du “ Centre spirituel Notre–Dame de Vie ” et à ceux du “ Cercle Éducation Physique ” de Lorient. Je salue les membres de l’“ Association nationale des parents, anciens et amis du patro ” et je leur souhaite un bon pèlerinage, dans l’esprit de sainte Claire et de saint François d’Assise. En ce temps de vacances, je forme le vœu que chacun d’entre vous mette à profit ses loisirs pour découvrir les richesses humaines, artistiques et spirituelles de Rome. Que Dieu vous guide et qu’Il vous bénisse!

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the physicians and nurses from various African countries attending a course on health–care sponsored by Caritas Italiana. Dear friends: may your efforts to bring healing and hope to the poor promote authentic development and solidarity among the peoples of Africa, and bear ever more effective witness to the Church’s love for all Christ’s brothers and sisters. My greetings also go to the pilgrim groups from China, Indonesia and South Africa. Upon all the English–speaking visitors present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke God’s blessings of grace and peace.

Ai pellegrini giapponesi 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini provenienti da ogni parte del Giappone.

Si sente dire in questi giorni che il Giappone sta attraversando momenti particolarmente difficili.

Vorrei esortarvi tutti a comportarvi in questa circostanza in modo evangelico, come luce del mondo e sale della terra.

Con questo auspicio vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser Betrachtung grübe ich Euch, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher, sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt Euch, liebe Jugendliche, die Ihr mit einigen Gruppen vertreten seid. Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie all jenen, die sich uns in diesem Augenblick verbunden wissen, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai visitatori di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Con estas exhortaciones a la pobreza evangélica, saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todas las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de los distintos países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, al grupo de profesores universitarios de Bucaramanga (Colombia) y a las peregrinaciones provenientes de México, Puerto Rico y de Antequera (Málaga).

Mi afectuosa bienvenida a esta audiencia a los peregrinos españoles que conmemoran el Centenario del nacimiento de Madre Esperanza, así como a los alumnos de la escuela de los Padres Armenios de Buenos Aires.

A todos imparto de corazón mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli brasiliani e portoghesi

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Uma saudação afectuosa aos peregrinos brasileiros de Guaxupé e do Rio de Janeiro, de Porto Alegre, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Recife, São Luís e Salvador, como também aos participantes portugueses vindos de Poiares e Lamego, e ao Grupo de Nossa Senhora do Sameiro de Braga.

Com a certeza da minha prece e Bênção para vós e para as vossas famílias, exorto–vos a conformar sempre mais a vossa vida com Jesus Cristo, sem medo das Suas exigências, pois Ele disse: “ há mais felicidade em dar que em receber ”.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana 

Rivolgo ora un cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Saluto con particolare affetto i Seminaristi dell’Accademia Teologica Ortodossa di San Pietroburgo, venuti in Italia per un’esperienza di incontro e di dialogo con i loro coetanei dell’Opera “Giorgio La Pira” di Firenze. Auspico, carissimi, che l’opportuna iniziativa a cui partecipate offra un valido contributo all’attuale cammino di ricerca per una rinnovata intesa fra Oriente ed Occidente, di cui il grande Sindaco di Firenze fu un illuminato maestro.

Il mio pensiero va poi alle Suore di Sant’Anna, che partecipano ad un corso di Formazione permanente per approfondire, alla luce delle Costituzioni rinnovate, il carisma che fu affidato dal Signore ai Fondatori del loro Istituto.

Accolgo con gioia il gruppo di ragazzi di Tisno, località della Diocesi di Sibenik sulla costa dalmata, ospiti presso la Parrocchia di San Francesco d’Assisi in Roma per un periodo di vacanza lontano dai pericoli della guerra in corso nei Balcani.

Saluto, infine, il Gruppo internazionale di giovani che, insieme con il responsabile, Sacerdote Jean Pierre Robin, stanno compiendo un pellegrinaggio da Assisi a Roma. Carissimi, la riscoperta delle tradizionali vie della preghiera sia la vostra impegnativa preparazione alla “Giornata Mondiale della Gioventù”, ormai prossima. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Il mio saluto cordiale e affettuoso giunga ora ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli, che partecipano all’udienza.

La Chiesa celebra oggi la memoria liturgica di San Lorenzo da Brindisi, frate cappuccino e celebre predicatore, il quale, nella sua vita, ha sempre esortato tutti alla conoscenza personale e all’approfondimento della dottrina cattolica.

San Lorenzo, che appartiene alla gloriosa schiera dei “Dottori della Chiesa”, illumini e aiuti voi, giovani, ad essere sempre dottrinalmente preparati negli ambienti in cui vivete; voi, malati, a comprendere sempre meglio il valore redentivo della sofferenza nel progetto salvifico della divina Provvidenza, voi, sposi novelli, a fondare la vostra famiglia sulla roccia stabile della Verità.

A tutti la mia benedizione. 

Appello per la pace in Bosnia ed Erzegovina 

Le notizie che provengono dalle care terre di Bosnia ed Erzegovina mi riempiono di grande tristezza. Nonostante varie iniziative tendenti a creare condizioni di pace, si intensificano i combattimenti, aumenta il numero delle vittime innocenti e dei profughi, la popolazione di intere regioni è priva delle condizioni minime di sussistenza; è senza cibo, acqua, luce, senza medicamenti di prima necessità. Di fronte al continuo deterioramento della situazione, resasi ormai insopportabile, l’Arcivescovo di Sarajevo, Mons. Vinko Puljic, mi ha inviato un commovente appello, supplicando di fare il possibile affinché sia fermata la feroce guerra in corso che, tra l’altro, rischia di sradicare la presenza dei cattolici dalla sua Arcidiocesi come pura dalla diocesi di Banja Luka.

Forte della speranza che non muore mai, nel nome del Signore rivolgo ancora una volta un pressante appello a tutti. Ai belligeranti: cessate la guerra! Essa degrada l’uomo e lo spinge a comportamenti indegni ed inconfessabili. I problemi a lunga scadenza si risolvono solamente con la forza del dialogo tra tutte le parti in causa, nel rispetto dei diritti di ogni persona e di ogni popolo, nella giustizia e nella pace.

Supplico pure i responsabili politici, a livello internazionale: Aiutate i popoli della Bosnia ed Erzegovina a fermare la guerra e ad instaurare una vera pace, fondamentale condizione per la necessaria ricostruzione spirituale e materiale del Paese!

Invito tutti a intensificare la preghiera per quelle care popolazioni: Che la Vergine Santissima, Regina della Pace, interceda per tutti noi feriti da tanta crudeltà, e ci implori dal Suo Figlio l’auspicata pace per la Bosnia ed Erzegovina, per la regione dei Balcani e per tutto il mondo.

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