Blessed Are The Poor (Among The Clergy) – OpEd


Salesian Father Edwin Soliva, rector of Don Bosco Batulao, told me that another Salesian priest, Father Rene Lagaya, volunteered to work with Bishop Broderick Pabillo in Palawan during the Lenten and Eastern seasons of this year.

Blessed are the poor (among the clergy) is taken from Luke 6:20, while Jesus is Looking at his disciples. The disciple’s practice of voluntary poverty means a willing decision “to follow Jesus all the way and not by half measures.” 

As Bishop Pabillo himself has put it more convincingly: The priests who made a choice to embrace voluntary poverty has more trust in God our Father, nabubuhay sa awa ng Diyos (living in God’s mercy), is more people-oriented than money-oriented, also allowing the lifestyle of the poor to influence him (“Poor Priests for the Poor,” National Clergy Meet, 2010).

Evangelical poverty and freedom are not strange bedfellows. When the priest learns to live on “essentiality and austerity,” cut-free from the tiniest string attachments, he is actually more liberated than liberty itself. He is ready to go when summoned, to be assigned anywhere, even in the most impoverished suburban parish, where the total Sunday collection is two thousand seven hundred fifty pesos and twenty-five centavos, including a half-dozen eggs and green mangoes in a woven basket. At the end of the day, freer than a bird, the detached priest has nothing but God. 

Some matrons who were generous benefactors of the Church unexpectedly came to visit the newly appointed pastor of Sta. Lucia Parish in Novaliches, who at that time (1980s) was sweeping the church floor, was dressed in a white shirt, black pants, and rubber slippers. The parish priest thought he would do well if he would sweep the dirt off the floor while waiting for a young couple scheduled for marriage counseling that day. The poor parish couldn’t even afford a full-time janitor then. 

Thinking that the man was the janitor, the matrons inquired in unison: “Where is the new parish priest? We would like to meet him.”

In the mind of Francis, ordinariness is a decision to eat simple food, shunning “the culture of waste,” ever mindful of the millions who go to bed with empty stomachs. Being normal means a preference to don “unbranded” shirts and shoes, remembering the naked and the street children. 

The clergy has to learn from great men who lived on “essentiality,” pruned from all useless foliage of materialism, and intentionally detached from all forms of trappings and frills. 

Ordinariness is simplicity, and simplicity hates everything fanciful. The faithful who meet a simple priest smell it—like the fragrance of holiness. The official representative of the Church should not be overly concerned “to be seen always, living a social life full of appearances, meetings, dinners, and receptions” (Evangelii Gaudium, 95).

Jesus the poor. When our beloved Lord began his public ministry, he chose twelve commoners as coadjutors, resembling today’s run-of-the-mill citizens with no impressive doctorates, flashy titles, tons of influence, dazzling glitz and glamour, membership on any corporate board, and no fat bank accounts. 

Remember, Matthew, the tax collector? He was the opposite of good! Half of the Twelve were fishermen! Simon the Zealot was a revolutionary. The only one who got formal education and was nearest to decency was Judas the Iscariot.

In choosing twelve commoners, Jesus was telling the ever-glamorous world: Give me ordinary men, and I will change the face of the earth. Truly, man’s ways are not God’s ways, for Jesus says: I have chosen the weak to shame the strong, and I have chosen the simple to shame the great (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). 

How can we fail to notice how Pope Francis himself living on a shoestring, puts on his old silver cross, and wears a pair of worn-out black shoes even after being elected the Successor of Peter?

When he assumed the Chair of Peter in 2013, Pope Francis, a former bar bouncer, admitted he wanted some kind of “austerity and essentiality” among the Church’s leaders. He told the world that he wanted a “poor Church for the poor” in which ONLY THE ESSENTIAL MATTERS and the rest are superfluous!

And what is superfluous? Our forthright Jesuit pontiff told some young clergy that having the latest smart phone or fashion accessories is superfluous and not exactly the way to happiness. How did he know that some of his clergy possessed the latest models of e-gadgets and gizmos? Then, as a good father, His Holiness deciphered for them what real joy is not:

Some will say: Joy is born from possessions, so they go in quest of the latest model of the smartphone, the fastest scooter, the showy car. But I tell you, it truly grieves me to see a priest or a sister with the latest model of a car. But this can’t be! It can’t be! 

Our Argentine pope suggested a quick move on the part of those concerned: “Choose a more humble car!” (Meeting with seminarians and novices, 6 July 2013).

May our Blessed Lord send us more holy priests.

Dr Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano

Dr. José Mario Bautista Maximiano is the lead convenor of the Love Our Pope Movement (LOPM) International. Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano, based in the Philippines capital Manila, is a Catholic scholar, public educator and columnist. He is author of the three-volume work on the Chronological and Thematic Essays: 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines.

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