Papa Luciani (Pope John Paul I) on Poverty and the Church

Papa Luciani, on September 23, 1978 as he took possession of his diocesan cathedral St. John Lateran, delivered a wonderful homily.

I want this morning to share only a very brief portion of it in which he references the poor of the city of Rome. This is the official English translation from the Vatican.

“Rome will be a true Christian community if God is honoured by you not merely with private life that is lived morally, but also with love for the poor. These, the Roman deacon Lawrence said, are the true treasures of the Church. They must be helped, however, by those who can, to have more and to be more, without becoming humiliated and offended by ostentatious riches, by money squandered on futile things and not invested — in so far as possible– in enterprises of advantage to all.”

How I wish Luciani would have had the time to develop this vision for his diocese! You are aware, perhaps, that he sold a couple of expensive gold pectoral crosses, one of which was given to him by Pope John XXIII, and used the proceeds to help an orphanage. I can’t help but wonder if he might have done more of the same with the material riches of the Holy See. He declined to be crowned with the papal tiara to forsake a certain temporality and wealth that had been associated with the papacy. He had promised his father decades before that he would never forget the poor and the marginalized. I suspect the diocese of Rome would have been a very spiritually rich diocese — although materially poorer — had John Paul I had a decade long reign. We will never know.

As I have said in previous posts, I think we can look to his successor, John Paul II, to see the fruition of Luciani’s call to a new evangelization of the world. What may have differed between the two popes was their respective visions of how the Church’s poverty would be made more evident. Neither of them was right or wrong; rather, they were two facets to this aspect of the Church.

Recall that Luciani’s catechesis in his Wednesday audiences that month centered on the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. These were the theological underpinnings to ┬áthe life of poverty he apparently entertained for the diocese of Rome, and by extension I could imagine, for the whole Church. He also saw as equally important the charitable works of the Church, i.e., the preferential option of the poor, and the individual moral lives of its people. We have a harder time today to grasp this than we did nearly 35 years ago, as for many today living a moral life is tantamount and superlative to a charitable life. Perhaps we should meditate a bit more on the needs of the poor in our midst.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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