Material Poverty, or an Impoverished Spirituality?

By Fr. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC
First published by Catholic Stand.

Are the parish closings and consolidations occurring regularly in archdioceses and dioceses of the United States, a simple function of the absence of material resources?  And, if so, is this not directly attributable to the dwindling number of Catholics who regularly attend Mass and receive the Sacraments?

One must concede, there are numerous factors which have contributed to this decline. And yet, many would attribute this trend, to the abuse scandals and the Church’s handling of these cases.  Nevertheless, any true consideration of these scandals must take into account the distinction between the Catholic Church (which possesses Divine origin) and sinful men who are prone to sin and concupiscence – the result of original sin.

This is made clear within Cardinal Charles Journet’s book, The Church of the Word Incarnate:

The word Church may be taken, and I shall in this book take it, in its formal, or ontological, or theological sense.  So taken it indicates the Church in her entirety, body and soul together.  But it indicates the Church alone, pure and unmixed, to the exclusion of all that is other than herself.  Looked at in this way, the Church is composed of just men and sinners.  But that statement needs further precision.  The Church contains sinners.  But she does not contain sin.  It is only in virtue of what remains pure and holy in them, that sinners belong to her—that is to say in virtue of the sacramental characters of Baptism and Confirmation, and of the theological habits of faith and hope if they still have them.  That is the part of their being by which they still cleave to the Church, and are still within her.  But in virtue of the mortal sin which has found its way into them and fills their hearts, they belong chiefly to the world and to the devil.  “He who commits sin is of the devil” (i John iii. 8).[i]

Thus, due to original sin and its consequences, men err, scandalize, and injure those around them.

But, when speaking of the Catholic Church in its Divine origin, to the exclusion of all that is other than herself, the Church is pure and unmixed – she does not contain sin.  It is only within its body or membership, that is, in sinful men and women who have fallen from God’s grace, that the Church contains sinners.  Consequently, [i]t is only in virtue of what remains pure and holy in them, that sinners belong to the Church.  Thus, to be restored to a greater image and likeness of God, and be counted among the just, one must repent of one’s sins and approach Christ for His forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

A second thought common in the current day is that the pastoral approach taken by many in the Church has done more to judge than serve its membership.  And, if this were the case, that a priest or bishop took it upon himself to judge an individual’s behavior rashly – this could certainly be sinful.  However, if the priest or bishop is simply communicating the Truth as it is contained in the Revealed Word of God, out of love for those entrusted to him and their ultimate salvation, this is not rash judgment at all – but Charity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this in paragraphs, 2477-2478:

Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury (cf. CIC, can. 220).  He becomes guilty: – of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor; – of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them (cf. Sir 21:28); – of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.  To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: ‘Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it.  But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it.  And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love.  If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved’” (cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 22).[ii]

Regardless of one’s perception of the Church and its membership, any new evangelization or revitalization of the Church must be rooted in Truth and Faith.  In love – for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, not languishing in the mire of an ill-advised attempt to grow membership – that one obtains the needed resources to preserve property and buildings.  One’s motivation must always be love for God and the salvation of souls.  And, if this truly be the focus, God will ensure that these funds are made available:

‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.’  So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?  What can you do?  Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  So Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’”[iii]

This reality is solidly confirmed in a book entitled, Priest, Portraits of Ten Good Men Serving the Church Today:

In 1998, the archbishop appointed Fr. Lauer pastor of Old St. Mary’s Church, the oldest parish in Cincinnati.  He hadn’t ‘applied’ for the position, as is the customary procedure.  In fact, no priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had applied for it.  Located in the crime-ridden ‘ghetto’ of Over-the-Rhine, the parish was saddled with a whopping debt of more than $700,000.  Such a precarious financial position would seem daunting to most, but for Fr. Lauer it was just another challenge to be overcome by the power of prayer and fidelity to Christ and His Church.

The initial plan was to bring the parish into the black by the end of the Jubilee Year 2000. ‘It would have been wonderfully symbolic of the Great Jubilee as a time of unprecedented grace,’ he said.  Much to everyone’s surprise, however, Old St. Mary’s retired the parish debt almost two years before the goal, on Easter Sunday 1999.

Debt relief came by way of three ‘miracles,’ each attributed to prayer and fasting at the encouragement of Fr. Lauer.  The first miracle came from an anonymous patron who offered $300,000 in matching funds.  The second came when $128,000 in donations was raised in the extraordinarily short time of forty days. 

Fr. Lauer then dedicated the first month of 1999 as the ‘month of God the Father.’ Parishioners studied the Holy Father’s apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, and Fr. Lauer devoted each of his January homilies to elaborating on the special role of the First Person of the Blessed Trinity.  To conclude the month of God the Father, the parish prayed a novena that ended on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, February 2, 1999.  The following day, the parish received word of another patron who had donated $215,000 — miracle number three. 

By Palm Sunday, the parish’s debt had been reduced to approximately $20,000, and the remainder of the debt was retired on Easter Sunday.  All this was accomplished without a capital fund drive; there were no fundraisers, pledge envelopes, bingo nights, car washes, or raffles.  The parish accomplished this feat through almsgiving, prayer, and fasting — the three staples of a penitential Lent.”[iv]

Here, one must understand – Faith is imperative and must be primary: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.  Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.  And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.[v]

God hears the prayers of His people and answers those who possess Faith – those who trust that He will provide for all their needs: 

Trust in the LORD and do good that you may dwell in the land and live secure.  Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart’s desire.  Commit your way to the LORD; trust that God will act.  And make your integrity shine like the dawn, your vindication like noonday.[vi] 

Could God abandon those who believe in love itself?  Can a child remain unaffected by the love of His Father? 

Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.  In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.  In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.[vii] 

Therefore, ‘Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness’ (Mt 6:33).  Other matters must not be the object of excessive concern, because our heavenly Father knows our needs; this is what Jesus teaches us when he asks his disciples for ‘childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father who takes care of his children’s smallest needs’ (CCC, n. 305): ‘Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind.  For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them’ (Lk 12:29f.). 

We are therefore called to cooperate with God in an attitude of great trust.  Jesus teaches us to ask the heavenly Father for our daily bread (cf. Mt 6:11; Lk 11:3).  If we receive it with gratitude, we will also spontaneously remember that nothing belongs to us and that we must be ready to give: ‘Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again’ (Lk 6:30).

The certainty that God loves us makes us trust in his Fatherly providence even in life’s most difficult moments. This complete trust in God, the providential Father, even in the midst of adversity, is admirably expressed by St Teresa of Jesus: 

Let nothing trouble you; let nothing frighten you. Everything passes.  God never changes.  Patience obtains all.  Whoever has God wants for nothing.  God alone is enough’ (Poems, 30).[viii] 

Notes
[i] Journet, Charles. 1955. The Church of the Word Incarnate : An Essay in Speculative Theology. Vol. I, the Apostolic Hierarchy. London: Sheed & Ward., pg. XXVII.
[ii] Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church : Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. 2nd ed. Vatican City Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; United States Catholic Conference, 1997., para. 2477-2478.
[iii] Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Church, Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible (Washington, D.C. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 2011)., Jn. 6:29-33., (Hereafter cited as NAB).
[iv] Rose, Michael S. 2003. Priest : Portraits of Ten Good Men Serving the Church Today. Manchester, N.H: Sophia Institute Press., pg. 16-17.
[v] NAB., Jn. 14:11-14.
[vi] Ibid., Ps. 37:3-6.
[vii] Ibid., 1 Jn. 4:8-11.
[viii] Pope John Paul II. General Audience. P 3-4. 24 March 1999. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_24031999.html

Father Kenneth Dos Santos, MIC, is the author of Hagia Sophia: The Wisdom of God as Offered to the Modern World (Marian Press). 
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Photo courtesy CatholicStand.com.

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