Catholics, Poverty, Clericalism and the Family

One thing that gets me just recently.

Pope Francis's emphasis on poverty is fine. It not only strikes a popular chord but does teach us dependence on God's providence. But, something nags me about it. If you want to live a Catholic family life and be 'open to life', you need money to have a large family. It's a bit like when the Holy Father keeps talking about 'clericalism'.

Fine, whatever it is, it sounds like its a great problem, but in reality the vast majority of the Church consists of lay people who will never be clerics. What is the great crisis, other than the crisis of faith in the West? It is the great crisis in the family. It is this that is under great attack and many, the children of divorced and separated parents now need faith like thunder in order to have happy marriages and family lives - especially in this age when 'everything goes' (to bits).

On both matters the Pope is avoiding things that go to the heart of the crisis in the West, which is a crisis of Priests and Bishops, yes, but also of lack of fidelity and love for Christ's teachings and being generous and open to life. In fact, as a general trend, the West will commit suicide since it cannot replace its own population with 1.3 children per family - a family that is more often than not, unable to stay together for long.

Perhaps this is condemned by the Pope with regard to the culture of materialism and consumerism, but it still stands that Catholic families do need the necessary evil of money in order to be open to life and be generous to our generous God by being open to life. That isn't to put a price on a baby's head, its just an ever present consideration and often source of anxiety faced by every parent or prospective parent unless you are loaded. When the Pope speaks of 'clericalism', Lord forgive me but I just turn off because it sounds like His Holiness is 'talking Church' - priests talking about priests and how to be good priests - there is nothing more tedious to a layman's ears! - rather than talking 'Catholicism' or the Teachings of Jesus and His Church which save in their beautiful fullness.

We should welcome new life as readily as the Holy Father does!
'Poverty', 'clericalism', 'poverty', 'clericalism'. Fine, these are worthy points of discussion and teaching, but please, Holy Father, teach the fullness of the Faith, the Truth that sets us free, since while all are called to be 'poor in spirit' and some are called to poverty, chastity and obedience, and consumerism and materialism are indeed dangers to a sound and firm faith, without the Catholic family - that is families open to God's plan - the Church will die for lack of members and you may as well turn St Peter's into a mosque now. If only, Holy Father, every Catholic husband and wife welcomed babies as readily as do you in St Peter's Square!

The Lord told us how hard it is for the rich to enter Heaven, but He did not tell everyone to sell all they own and to give the money to the poor. He said that to the rich young man who asked to follow Him perfectly in order to attain eternal life. If a Catholic family gave everything they had to the poor week in, week out, or expended all their energies 'on the peripheries' they'd have little to nothing in terms of energy, love, education, catechesis and general necessities to give their children and the children they hope to have in co-operation with the Lord who is the Author of Life.

Blessed in marriage: Louis and Zelie Martin.

Of course, if a rich man has no intention of having children and he and his wife have no intention of co-operating with God in being open to life or being generous with their wealth to the Lord, then yes, surely, it will be very difficult indeed for that man and that rich woman to enter the Kingdom of Heaven since that man and that woman prefers the self-centred pleasures of this world to the generosity we should show to a generous, loving God that is among the true hallmarks of a Christian, whether s/he serves the Lord in a community, as a priest, nun, a single person or as a husband, wife, Bishop or Pope.

There is a great danger in the Pope simplifying the message of the Lord on poverty and wealth that makes a specific aspect of a particular apostolate general to the Church as a whole, when in fact, it surely stands that not every Catholic man and woman will be or can be Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or St Francis of Assisi. In fact, there is a danger of Francis making poverty and the Lord's teaching into an 'ideology'. We are indeed a 'broad and diverse' Church. We need Catholics like the parents of St Therese of Lisieux as well as holy monks, nuns, and friars. Below is a timeline of the heroic and saintly lives of Louis and Zelie Martin and, I think you'll agree that today, the timeline seems nothing short of revolutionary. I believe they may have had a little bit of time for the poor as well as a lifelong marriage, sanctity in their state of life and the fruitful Catholic education and parenting of nine children.

1823 August 22: Louis born in Bordeaux France.
1831 December 23: Marie Azelia Guerin born near Alencon France.
1850 November: Louis set up his watchmaker/jeweller shop in Alencon.
1853 Zelie set up as maker of Point d’Alencon lace in that town.
1858 July 13: Louis and Zelie married.
1859 September 9: Death of Zelie’s mother.
1860 February 22: Birth of Marie: first child of Louis and Zelie.
1861 September7: Birth of Pauline: second child.
1863 June 3: Birth of Leonie: third child.
1864 October 13: Birth of Helene: fourth child. Signs of Zelie’s future illness appear.
1865 Death of father of Louis.
1866 September 20: Birth of Joseph Louis: fifth child and first son.
1866 December Zelie’s ageing father came to live in the Martin household.
1867 February 14: Death of baby Joseph Louis.
1867 December 19: Birth of Jean Baptiste: sixth child.
1868 August 24: Death of baby Jean Baptiste.
1868 September 3: Death of Zelie’s father.
1869 April 28: Birth of Celine: seventh child.
1870 February 22: Death of Helene at five and a half years of age.
1870 August 18: Birth of Marie Melanie Therese: eighth child.
1870 October 10: Death of baby Marie Melanie Therese.
1871 Death of Zelie’s nephew Paul Guerin. Louis and Zelie billet nine German soldiers.
1873 January 2: Birth of Marie Francoise Therese: ninth child - future Saint Therese.
1877 February 24: Death of Sr Marie Dosithee sister and confidante of Zelie.
1877 August 28: Death of Zelie Martin from breast cancer.
1894 July 29: Death of Louis Martin after several years of suffering from an illness in the Bon Saveur psychiatric hospital in Caen. He returned home to die.

2008 October 19: Beatification of Louis and Zelie Martin.

If I had nine children to feed I'd require some pretty 'worldly' work in order to feed them. The world and life of the Catholic layman is going to be rather different to that of the Priest, Bishop and Pope. Surely, the message of the Gospel on poverty has to be presented in a different way to different Catholics in different states of life. Sin is sin, greed is greed, avarice is avarice, but the message on poverty must surely be tailored to different people with different needs, it cannot be 'one size fits all'.


Jacobi said…

An interesting note you have written. Pope Francis is settling down, so don’t worry. He is a Jesuit after all. For all their intellectualism they can have a casual, broad approach to things. I know. I was taught by them.

We have to distinguish between the naked and the hungry, for whom we must care, or else we are in deep trouble, and the “poor”. I grew up in a society that was poor by any standards, but quite Catholic.

Today I see, what is left of that group, some 2-3 generations on, to be a reasonably affluent, but rather irreligious remnant. Has eliminating poverty done them a favour?

I have always suspected that so much of our confusion come from a misinterpretation of that term “poor in spirit”

The real target of our efforts should be poverty by all means, but spiritual poverty.
Physiocrat said…
The Catholic laity need to proclaim the doctrine of Distributism, which was developed by Chesterton and Belloc, based on Rerum Novarum. Instead, we stand on the sidelines whilst the 1% grab the wealth and the government put forward ludicrous schemes like "help to buy" so that people can get on the "housing ladder", and obscene and anti-family concept if ever there was one, and what have we Catholics ever said against it?
Lynda said…
People can usually live on a lot less than they think. Many people accept the lie that one "needs" to have a great deal of income and property, etc., to have children. Of course big families eventually become strong economically, socially, etc.
Physiocrat said…
Lynda - do you know what the work and housing situation is like in Britain?
Kristin LA said…
There is an American family called the Duggars on reality TV (19 kids and counting). They have placed their family size in God's hands. As protestants they put Catholics to shame. TV success has been financially rewarding, but from the beginning they trusted that God would provide. And He always did. Matthew 6:25-34
Jackie Parkes said…
The parents of St therese have been one of my inspirations. My timeline of births is possibly more impressive ie 12 in 13 years Deo gratias. I find the present Holy Father like the last extremely inspiring. My favourite was probably John XXlll as his Journal of a Soul and letters to his family are particularly helpful as he was one of 10 children himself. Lynda what you say is so true. Our eldest is now a doctor - also married with a son. Anyway long live Pope Francis!

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