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Saturday, May 8, 2010

What you do not need, you should not own!

or The emptying of our closets on the first month of every year,
the pooling of goods and resources, the universality of our mission

Decades ago, the Catholic Church in Latin America got into serious trouble when it advocated a more equitable distribution of wealth and started to tell rich landowners that what they do not need, they should not own. The response came swift and effective, twofold. First, the Church was mocked as hypocritical, labeled as Marxist, and told to practice what it preached. Secondly, contributions to its projects and charitable works plummeted. By way of damage control, most Catholic preachers decided to shut up. To this day, they have remained silent. There is no mystery involved here—matter is quantitative. The Church, often enough, has too much. And judging from its reaction, unwilling to let go.

The Church has skillfully skirted the unequivocal gospel message that it needs so little to be truly Church and truly Christian. There is no mistaking this in the long history of the Church. Like a courtesan fascinated with patrons of substance, she continues to flirt with wealth and power.

MJ could not dare go as dramatic, as in the case of the Latin American Church. We simply do not have that much to give up. We cannot boast of material assets (as a group, that is). In many cases and places, we are still struggling for what may be considered basic—funds for our pastoral and missionary commitments, reasonable health and medical insurance, lodgings and offices, etc. Yet, I would not want the first month of the year to end without pointing to something related that I’ve noticed in the course of our separation from Scheut, something difficult to miss as we were cast out from our former CICM quarters. Namely, the boxes—the many boxes, trunks, and suitcases filled with our personal belongings. Books and clothes, mostly. But let us not forget the canned goods, the bottled spirits, the heaps of souvenirs!

Some might think I am advocating that MJ go à la Francesco of Assisi. Not really. I am a known proponent of sober comfort for religious, especially for the elderly and the sick. Besides, if the Franciscans themselves are unable to heed their wonderful founder, who are we to outdo them? I am just amazed at how we have accumulated so many things we do not actually use and, therefore, do not need. There are, of course, exceptions. Norman Soriano is exemplary in this respect. Some of us would recall that even the very little that he had was stolen by thieves in the CICM Provincial House!

It became highly observable as we transferred from one temporary lodging to another that there are many “squirrels” among us. The appropriative habit of these rodents ignores any proportion between need and ownership. In this light, I am proposing a couple of things that, in due time, could become part of our collective practice.


As we seek funds for our missionary commitments, we could also begin the practice of emptying our aparadors (closets) of things we do not need or will not use again, ever. The start of every New Year, January, seems an appropriate time to do this. Could we even go further by emptying them of things we think we still might need in the fuuuutuuuuure? Have you noticed how readily we become advocates of security in the future when dealing with stored goods? Is this a prudent exercise in foresight or simply the inability to let go of things, for no other reason than that we have become attached to them. Besides, things do not get attached to us, we get attached to them.

Some Benedictine communities practice the positive version of what I am proposing. They maintain a common cupboard filled with gifts received—clothes, towels, handkerchiefs, canned goods, candy, liquor,

lotion, etc. These items are placed at the disposal of the community members, given to beggars who come knocking at their door, or given away to people in need, especially disaster victims. In considering this, let us keep in mind that our situation in life has been and is such that there are always others in greater need.


There is no arguing that a number of us could be laid comfortably to rest on the mound of books we have accumulated through the years of pastoral and missionary work. Though this might speak well of our intellectual pursuits and determination to keep abreast of developments in theology and other fields, personal libraries are not exactly consistent with the ideals of religious community life. The custom of maintaining personal libraries forms part of our inherited Scheutist tradition that originates from the accepted practice of diocesan curates who, for the most part, live alone. However, as we begin our own traditions in MJ, there is a patent need to rationalize the tendency to acquire books for personal libraries, usually exclusive! Why not community libraries instead? After all, the fundamental difference is location, a few meters of distance. Instead of reaching for books in shelves some feet away from our desk, we might have to walk a few meters to reach the community library. Instead of keeping books in our rooms, another place more accessible to community members, as well as others, could be found. This seems more in keeping with vowed community life.



The star of Bethlehem shone for all men and women of goodwill. Thus, Matthew tells us in the story of the Wise Men from the East. The search of these men is the universal search of every person seeking the Truth that saves. We have taken upon ourselves to promote the universality of the Christian message. Would it not be in keeping with this fundamental option to have the Epiphany of our Lord as our first congregational feast?

07 January 2004

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