When I as in Assisi, I also noticed a small band of Franciscans who took the call to poverty quite literally. All one had to do was observe their way of dress, their bare feet, and their joy to know that these were men who embraced poverty just as St. Francis and Clare did.
Today as I reflect on these things it makes me wonder if I, as a diocesan priest, am called to some form of voluntary poverty. So I turned to Pope Benedict's letter to priests for the Year for priests. The Holy Father hold us up for priests the example of St. John Vianney, and points out the choice this great patron of priests made to live in poverty. This is what the Holy Father said:
It was complete commitment to this “new style of life” which marked the priestly ministry of the Curé of Ars. Pope John XXIII, in his Encyclical Letter Sacerdotii nostri primordia, published in 1959 on the first centenary of the death of Saint John Mary Vianney, presented his asceticism with special reference to the “three evangelical counsels” which the Pope considered necessary also for diocesan priests: “even though priests are not bound to embrace these evangelical counsels by virtue of the clerical state, these counsels nonetheless offer them, as they do all the faithful, the surest road to the desired goal of Christian perfection”. The Curé of Ars lived the “evangelical counsels” in a way suited to his priestly state. His poverty was not the poverty of a religious or a monk, but that proper to a priest: while managing much money (since well-to-do pilgrims naturally took an interest in his charitable works), he realized that everything had been donated to his church, his poor, his orphans, the girls of his “Providence”, his families of modest means. Consequently, he “was rich in giving to others and very poor for himself”. As he would explain: “My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back”. When he lacked money, he would say amiably to the poor who knocked at his door: “Today I’m poor just like you, I’m one of you”. At the end of his life, he could say with absolute tranquillity: “I no longer have anything. The good Lord can call me whenever he wants!”.
So what do you think? Would you like to see your priest embrace voluntary poverty in order to more closely follow Jesus, or is that just too much? Let me know in the comments what you think.