Today on Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the Catholic Church. Read more here: Pentecost. Our new Holy Father Pope Francis has been reminding us since the onset of his pontificate that the Church has to return to its roots in poverty.
The Catholic Church has existed for over 2,000 years. No other institution or social body can top this achievement. However, this achievement has nothing to do with the men and women who run the Church. The Church has existed this long because she is God’s Church. Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against her. (Matthew 16:18)
It is obvious that Christ did not lie. The Church has faced all kinds of attacks from within and without, yet she thrives on as if nothing has happened. Since the early days, we had our first scandal with Judas who betrayed Christ. The early Church could have dissolved after this, but she did not. What bigger scandal can “discredit” Christ as messiah then to have one of His own followers betray Him and instigate the process which would lead to His execution on the Cross?
Similarly, after Christ’s Ascension and after Pentecost, the Church had issues with fallen human nature. She even had sects appear which often confused followers with their radical ideas. As the Church grew, she was persecuted by the Romans. Large numbers were killed and tortured all for believing in Christ. However, this did not destroy the Church.
When Constantine converted and gave the property of the Pagan temple worshipers to the Catholic Church and made the Catholic religion the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Church finally got comfortable, so to speak. She perhaps got a bit too comfortable.
I believe it was at this point that the Church began to assume too much temporal power and material wealth which would lead it into more scandal. Clergy, even Popes, Cardinals and Bishops were living double lives by disregarding celibacy and material poverty. Had it not been for young Francis of Assisi, the Church would have sunken deeper into scandal. It is no wonder why this Pope now chose the name ‘Francis.’ He wants to renew the Church.
The Church has not completely disconnected itself from having possessions. Even the Franciscan order which Francis founded has found itself lost in material wealth. Many of their friaries look like 5th avenue brown stones. Habits are made of fine materials and can cost over $600 each. Retirement homes look like resorts with swimming pools and luxuries that do not reflect the poverty that Christ taught and St. Francis reminded us about.
Pope Francis is once again reminding the Church that we have to be a “poor Church.” We do not need lavish residences and flashy things in order to run the Church. We must be rich in the grace of God. Rich in love, humility and truth.
We must pray for a new Pentecost where the Spirit of God will renew each one of us and remind us that material things are not necessary. They do not bring happiness. This poverty will help authenticate the values of Christianity that we should present to the world in the witness of our very lives.