“I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor”, wrote Pope Pius X in 1914. This was a man who donned the Papal Tiara, rode atop a Sedia, and wore full regalia at the altar. As the Vicar of Christ, he owned none of these emblems, and had no blood heirs to this inheritance.
“The poor will always be with you”, taught Jesus Christ in the lesson of the widow’s mite. In this lesson, Jesus (see Mark 14:7 or Matthew 26:11) demonstrates that we should give our best to higher purposes, even as we rightly turn our hearts to charity. Critics of church wealth forget humble Jesus’ admonishment against his disciples, who instinctively criticized the woman from Bethany who anointed Jesus with precious perfume. This instinct towards modesty in faith is natural, and is ingrained in Buddhist and Hindu teachings, and within my own family. Critics of the Tridentine Rite conjure up imagery of medieval times. They bring up the chasm between wealthy church and insular clergy; against poor, illiterate peasants separated by an altar rail; and whose attention is garnished with bells, gold chalices and royal vestments. They contrast the stone facades of Vatican City to poverty in Africa, wondering how wealth can be transferred. To these critics, church finery represent the trappings of royalty; instead of a sense of transcendence and permanence. I deject, the Church is:
Patron of artistry and craftsmanship- gifts to the Church are made by artists sponsored by wealthy patrons, or even the joint contribution of parishioners.
Protector of heritage- monasteries maintained ancient libraries through the Dark Ages.
A commonwealth- In contrast to the jewels of private citizens, church splendor- beautiful objects- can be shared by parishioners. Furthermore, precious metals such as gold and silver historically served as an emblem of sovereign strength without the need for bloodshed. Look at Switzerland’s enviable position as an example.
One to draw attention to the altar and the priest. Pope Benedict XVI’s vestments (and Pope Francis’ simple garb) draws the attention of media and its millions of viewers. This coverage might otherwise be given to the Queen of England.
Can the Church do better to help the less fortunate? It is true that the Vatican Bank has large investments in London real estate and Beretta firearms. To help further the Church’s recent push towards environmental justice, I would suggest that the Vatican expanding its holdings to include acres of threatened, unique forest preserves in places like the Amazon and Southeast Asia.