Every Christian should be Poor
By Br Thomas Thérèse Mannion O.P. | No Ifs, No Buts: every Christian should be Poor, Chaste and Obedient.
One of the lesser known and most beautiful parts of the Catechism is CCC 915: ‘Christ proposes the evangelical counsels [poverty, chastity and obedience], in their great variety, to every disciple. The perfection of charity, to which all the faithful are called, entails for those who freely follow the call to consecrated life the obligation of practicing chastity in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, poverty and obedience. It is the profession of these counsels, within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church, that characterizes the life consecrated to God.’
Often when we think about Poverty, Chastity and Obedience we think this is the reserve of the religious. Sometimes priests and lay faithful will say, ‘I have not taken a vow to be poor, chaste and obedient unlike you’. Whilst it is true there has been no vow taken in the sense of the religious it forgets one crucial factor: the religious life is a deepening of our baptism. It is by our Baptismal consecration we are all called, as the Catechism points out, to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience just not in the radical way Friars, Nuns, Monks and Religious Sisters are. Why? Because we are all called to live as Jesus lived and thereby to be evangelically compelling witnesses to him.
What is ‘the radical way’ not found in the priesthood or amongst the lay faithful?
This radicality may look slightly different depending on the religious order or congregation. Dominican Friars, like many others, live a communal life as brothers, a celibate life (granted this is found amongst the priesthood and some members of the lay faithful), a life where you are freed from other ways of being in order to commit yourself totally to the preaching of the Gospel for the Salvation of Souls in the many splendored ways in which that takes place. Hermits live this in a different way which is no less radical.
Whilst the radical nature of ‘being made eunuch’s for the sake of the kingdom’ (Matt 19:12) is not for everyone, whilst having to justify all expenditure to a superior is not for everyone, whilst being ordered where to live or work etc. is not for everyone – every Christian is supposed to live in some way, appropriate to their state in life, the evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedient.
Is ‘appropriate to ones state in life’ a get out of jail free card?
No, It means, if you have children (for example) you have a Christian duty to provide and care for them to the best of your ability but it does not mean one places material value at the centre of your life. There should be a certain simplicity in every Christian life. A system whereby all our time and energy is taken up with work and a focus on acquiring wealth is a broken system. Many have no alternative but to work ridiculous hours to put bread on the table and we have a duty to help people in this situation. As Pope Leo XIII said in Rerum Novarum, ‘’Once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met in your life everything else you own belongs rightfully to the poor’ (Rerum Novarum, 22).
What about Chastity, does this mean I have to be celibate?
Not if you are married. Chastity for a married person is different for those who are unmarried. Chastity is to give love, and sexual love, its proper reverence and context. Chastity is a gift and like all gifts it is not self-absorbed.
Poverty, Chastity and Obedience are to help us all as Christians live a Christ-like life. As we read in 1 John 2:6 ‘whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.’ Poor, Chaste and Obedient.
The centrality of mercy is key. Every Christian falls short of achieving Christian perfection from time to time, religious, priest and laity. We can be vain, greedy, self-absorbed comfort seekers, living for the next selfie – I am preaching to myself as much as anyone else – but knowing how we too often fall short of living the evangelical counsels should make us more eager to show mercy to others but also more eager to become an evangelically compelling witness to our humble, chaste, poor, obedient, modest saviour and redeemer: Jesus Christ.
We should avoid the temptation for the Gospel to make solely immaterial demands upon us, solely of the intellect and not the will. Why should we expect the Gospel and the Evangelical Counsels to be comfortable intellectual pursuits? The spiritual and the physical are intertwined, enmeshed and correlational, as such the evangelical counsels make concrete, physical, material demands of us. The desire to be poor, chaste, and obedient is at its heart a desire to be united with God; the act of being poor, chaste and obedient is an act of being united to God which transforms us into evangelically compelling disciples for the salvation of souls, and what Christian doesn’t want that?