i am a communalist (part one)

i had a fascinating conversation with a bmw salesman several years ago. to the best of my memory, this is how it went:

i was visiting seattle and going to catch up over dinner with a dear friend– jimmy cacabelos– after work. he asked me to meet him at the bellevue bmw dealership because his car was in the shop. as i was walking through the lot to get to the service department, a smiling salesman approached me.

he noticed that i was admiring the cars and asked, “you like our new models?”

i answered, “these cars are fantastic!”

he said, “well, we have to get you into one of them.”

i replied, “wonderful! but i can’t afford a bmw.”

he retorted, “well, we have some great financing going on– you’d be surprised how easy it is to get one.”

i said, “believe me, there is no way you can finance one of these for me.” and this kind of interchange went on. i finally smiled and said to him,

“you see, i am a catholic priest. i have taken a vow of poverty so i get an allowance of $175 a month. can i buy a bmw for $25 a month? because that is what i can afford”

he was shocked and looked at me like i was an alien from outer space. he asked me, “how can you live like that?”

i responded, “actually, i live qute well. i have learned to be fine with $175 a month. that is just money for myself. i have no expenses, so it is enough.” we talked a bit more as he was trying to figure out how someone could live on what he drops on one dinner. i finally asked him, “do you ever worry about finances– can you imagine a life not worrying about money?” he said, no.

i added, “well, that’s how i live. i really do not worry about money since i have all my expenses paid for– i have a place to stay, a car and gas, food, great medical coverage. i can focus on the ministry without anxieties about finances.”

finally, when i walked away he still had a quizzical look on his face.

the vast majority of people in our society worry about money/bills/expenses just like this bmw salesman. it is part of living life here– we have bills to pay. financial insecurity can cause many problems for a lot of people. among them are: how to pay rent when i lost my job or work for minimum wage; when to go to the hospital since i have no medical insurance; credit card or educational debt; affording to educate my children at a catholic school; how to buy the food that my family needs on a limited income; which bills must i pay today and what ones do i have to delay? on and on…

for me, as a claretian missionary all money that i receive goes to the claretians. in turn, the claretians provide all my needs– $175 a month for personal expenses included. as compared to the provinces in poorer countries, it is shocking to other claretians that we get that much! thus, no financial worries– but i am voluntarily “poor.” i am blessed and thankful.

would that all the world live without worrying about money! imagine everyone in the world with a roof over their heads, enough food to eat and insurance be treated at the hospital when they get sick. oh what a wonderful world it would be. living in our capitalist economic system, this seems like a pipe dream for the vast majority of folks. for the millions around the world who live in abject poverty, it is beyond imagination.


i believe that st. ignatius of loyola said that love is an exchange of gifts. in the spirituality of stewardship, we believe that all that we are and everything we have are gifts from God to be shared. the general categories of time, talent, and treasure (material and financial goods) are helpful for discerning God’s gifts. to love one another is to share our time, talent and treasure for the good of others. essentially, stewardship is the spirituality of sharing. as stewards of God’s gifts, selfishness is the greatest sin; generosity the greatest virtue. jesus gives us the greatest love: his life on the cross and resurrection from the tomb. indeed, the more that is given, the greater the call to share. we love in the measure of our gifts.

mature christians who take the love commandment seriously then ask, “how is the Spirit calling me to share the gifts– time, treasure and talent– that God has given me?”

for me, given my minimal material resources, my time and talents can be maximized. being free from financial anxiety, i should avail myself to serve people with the time and talents that God with which God has gifted me. at my best, i share these generously. at my worst, i am selfish with my time and talents. we cannot strive toward this lofty goal of love with God’s grace and the Holy Spirit.

all is for the common good– love is centered on others and God. i am just part of the great matrix– a unique part– but only one part. when we all live well, i live well too.

here is what happened to those who took love seriously and had the Spirit:

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. ( acts 2: 42-47 )

it sounds crazy, right? well, the apostles and early followers of jesus– because of the Holy Spirit– lived this craziness and showed us an aspect of love. was the key for them the effects of eucharist? was being devoted to prayers and being together in the communal life? was it the Spirit through signs and wonders? was it the exultation and sincerity of heart? the answer: yes.

religious life as benedictines, salesians, franciscans– even claretians– at our best reflects this ideal of sharing in our vow of voluntary poverty. our communal life as religious men and women differs according to our constitutions, history, culture, chapter documents, etc– but sharing in communal living can be a counter witness to the individualism, selfishness, materialism and meritocracy in our society.

no, i will not be driving a bmw anytime soon. and i will not worry about it one bit. i believe in the power of the common good and sharing– i hope to become a better communalist claretian in the future. help me Holy Spirit!

let us pray:

Lord Jesus: you are the head and we are the body, revive your church and fill us with the same love and passion as the early believers.

+ Give us a persistent hunger for your word – that our lives may be conformed to your teaching.
+ Give us a sincere love for one another – that we may seek opportunities to befriend and serve one another.
+ Give us a passion for unity – that we may set aside our differences and eat together at a common table.
+ Give us a lifestyle of prayer – that you may constantly be on our hearts and minds, guiding what we do and say.

Holy Spirit: fall again on your church throughout the world.

+ Manifest your presence among us through signs and wonders.
+ Make us a generous, freely-giving people that take care of one another.
+ Transform our worship from religious ritual to joy-filled praise in your presence.
+ Keep us in the world as respected citizens and gracious ambassadors of your Kingdom.

Heavenly Father: we ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

( https://scpeanutgallery.com/2017/06/06/morning-prayer-tuesday-06-june-acts-242-47-life-together/ )

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