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Preachers of the gospel have an undoubted right to live by it; but live how? In decent poverty, in well-to-do comfort, or in quasi-luxury? And just what constitutes each of these three states? Obviously, there is ample room for difference of opinion among those who undertake to answer such questions, especially as to the constituents of poverty, comfort, and luxury. If one man's meat may be another man's poison, one man's competency may be another man's indigence. What a city pastor considers the bare necessities of life may readily appear the luxuries of opulence to a foreign missionary, or, for that matter, to many a home missionary in the poorer dioceses of our own country. Wealth and poverty are relative terms; and the curate whose salary is only two hundred a year may for all practical purposes be richer than his pastor who annually draws five or six times that amount. In a general way, however, the three states that we have mentionedpoverty, comfort and luxury-are sufficiently differentiated to be recognizable by all; and it would be interesting to learn what are the real sentiments of our best Catholics—that is, our most pious, fervent, conscientious Catholics, as to which of the three is the most congruous state or condition for the priest.
While recognizing no doubt that the ideal priest, the closest possible human imitator of the great high priest, Jesus Christ, would practice in dress and food and lodging that grade of poverty the example of which was set by our Lord and was followed by His Apostles, and while aware that
all down the centuries there have been, as there are still, apostolic priests who have held and hold that ideal up to the admiration or, it may be, the scoffing of the world, very few of even our most exemplary Catholics to-day would declare that such a degree of mortification is an essential condition in the life of a good priest. Still fewer, however, it is quite safe to assert, would admit that the very antithesis of such poverty is at all becoming to a professed follower of our Saviour, to one whose acquired powers and whose daily ministry have earned for him the not inapt appellation, "another Christ." The cleric whose dress is the twentieth-century equivalent of the "purple and fine linen" of Scripture, whose rectory is a mansion fitted up with all the modern appliances conducive to sensuous enjoyment, and whose table habitually displays "the fat of the land," may possess a number of notable virtues and acquit himself worthily, on the whole, of his pastoral duties; but he is obviously a sadly inadequate representative of the poor Man of Galilee who had not where to lay His head; and even the least observant of his flock can hardly fail to note the contrast between the gospel he preaches and the life he lives.
The middle term between poverty and luxury, what we have styled well-to-do comfort, represents perhaps, if not the best possible, at least the best practicable, condition for the priest of to-day; and the cleric who is content therewith is not likely to be very severely criticized by his people, his ordinary, or a mentor more important than either, his own conscience. To live even in comfort, however,
one must have money; and as comparatively few American priests have been ordained titulo patrimonii, it behooves the average pastor to secure a sufficiency of financial supplies from those upon whom the Church imposes the obligation of contributing to his support. It need hardly be said that much depends on the methods he adopts in inducing his people to fulfil that obligation.
It is a commonplace in clerical circles that, with congregations of equal resources and similar dispositions, one priest readily obtains all the funds he requires for the prosecution of his parish works and his own salary, although he mentions money but rarely from the altar, while his neighbor who is continually making appeals or having collections for this, that, and the other purpose never seems to secure the half of what he declares to be necessary. Possibly the frequency of his appeals is just the explanation of the latter's ill success, and perhaps if he would talk less about money he would get more of it. There is, no doubt, not a little exaggeration in the comments passed by some of the laity on the insistence with which their pastors dwell Sunday after Sunday on the perennial topic of financial needs; but it must be admitted on the other hand that occasional clerics do discuss the money question from the altar or the pulpit with a frequency suggestive of the Shakespearian phrase, "damnable iteration." There was a substratum of truth in the reply of a cynical Catholic lawyer to the query, "What was Father Blank's text this morning?”—“He didn't use a text; but, an appropriate one for the tirade he
gave us would have been, 'What doth it profit a priest if he win to God the whole parish, and suffer the loss of his own pew-rents?" "
Before going further, let it be said that there is one method of treating the whole subject of the pews' financial obligation to the pulpit that is not only quite unobjectionable but is in reality obligatory on the efficient pastor-his giving a periodical sermon or a catechetical instruction on the fifth precept of the Church. It is clearly part of his office to teach his people their religious duties, and his lucid and unimpassioned explanation of this particular duty of the lay Christian may easily prove more effective in securing its fulfilment than will reiterated scoldings and bitter sarcasms, not to say vituperation and invective, on the occasion of specific failures to meet the obligation. That the explanation is needed from time to time would seem evident from the fact that the notions of not a few Catholics on this point are hazy rather than distinct. In truth, the religious duty incumbent upon the laity to contribute to the support of weir pastors is probably more imperfectly understood than are most other obligations of the Christian life.
One reason for such imperfect knowledge is doubtless the comparatively cursory treatment accorded to the fifth precept of the Church by the teacher in the Sunday-school. As the fulfilment of the precept, the contributing to the pastor's support, lacks the element of actuality so far as the children of the catechism class are concerned, the explanation usually given of this command
ment or law of the Church is probably more superficial than thorough. Obedience thereto will not become a practical question for the class until the boys and girls become men and women, so the precept does not receive all the attention and insistence that is given to moral duties of more immediate interest and import to the young.
All too often, apparently, the meagre explanatory comments of the Sunday-school teacher remain unsupplemented by intelligent reading and study in maturer years. In any case, account for it as we may, it is an undeniable fact that some Catholics either ignore the gravity of the obligation imposed upon them by this particular law of the Church, or, knowing full well the strictness of the obligation, deliberately and dishonestly shirk its fulfilment. That such persons form only a small minority of the faithful in any one parish or any one diocese of the country is perhaps quite true; but their existence at all is an abuse which merits public condemnation. At the same time it is hardly fair to the exemplary parishioners who give freely and cheerfully of their means for all religious purposes that they should be forced to listen to such condemnation, instead of the Word of God, week after week from January to December. Once a year, perhaps, in the course of a series of instructions on the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church, a set sermon on the subject will be appropriate; and, as has been intimated already, it is likely to be all the more effectual because of the preacher's appearing in the character of an expositor of Christian doc